Seven Brides: A Series of…Events

I’m one of those people: always a bridesmaid…well, you know the rest. And truthfully, the rest doesn’t bother me. But with the opening of Wedding Season 2021, after the non-existent 2020 season, the never-ending torture of the invention that is Facebook memories, and my not-so-accidental binge of Say Yes to the Dress, I’ve been feeling a bit reminiscent lately.

Though I wasn’t a bridesmaid in all, I’ve been involved in seven weddings. I had a solid five or six summers where I either attended or was in at least one, if not multiple nuptials of family or friends. I’m at a point, actually, where most of my friends have been married off and I spend summers looking at the pictures of their babies and other married adventures. I definitely wouldn’t say that I’m an expert or anything. I just have a lot of stories that have been rounded up like a big wedding album full of wildcard extended family members.

To proceed this entire series, I thought I would recap the weddings of my childhood, though I don’t remember who any of the couples were, except for my aunt’s, which I probably only remember because we went to a funeral that morning. I was ten when attended the first wedding that left a lasting impression.

The bride was my cousin, who was 21 at the time and marrying her college boyfriend. I was 10, and I was so excited! It was in Denver (and if you’ve read my blog before you might know that we hail from Texas) so attending meant a family road trip (back when I enjoyed family road trips), seeing my close-in-age cousins (but in Denver) and–well, it was all just an adventure that I was excited to be a part of. I also had a great admiration for my older cousin, as I only had one female cousin on each side of my family and no sisters. We’ve actually never been “close”, but it didn’t keep me from imagining her as one of my best friends. I made sure to pick out a beautiful pink and white dress for the wedding, and my mom got me one of those little rose hair pins to go in my bobbed, permed hair (an era of my life I rarely talk about and try especially hard not to show pictures of).

I’m surprised at how much ten-year-old me retained from that wedding. First, there were ushers, and I had never been to a wedding with ushers. I specifically remember rejecting the usher’s offer to walk me to my seat multiple times before I realized that’s what he was supposed to be doing. Second, I’m pretty sure it was the first time I heard “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” during a non-Christmas season. Third, there was a 6-year-old flower girl that wasn’t me, and I was a little bitter about that, even though I was too old to be a flower girl. Fourth, my uncle had a long speech (but I don’t think he married them, even though he’s ordained) that ended with a friend of someone singing “Butterfly Kisses”, and there was a slideshow with “Tale As Old As Time” in the background. I also thought that my cousin’s dress was the most beautiful I’d ever seen– it had a strapless, beaded bodice and a full, tulle skirt– as well as a tiara, because those were the wedding trends of 2003. It was storming outside and it was dark in the little church, only lit by an overabundance of candles, but the weather didn’t seem to impact the mood.

The reception was a whole different vibe. They rented out a penthouse event center in downtown Denver, and we ate a catered, Italian meal. There was both bride and groom cake, and the groom’s cake was a sheet cake decorated to look like a football field at a Redskins vs. Cowboys game, (representing the joining of a divided household). The couple entered through a lineup of tuxedoed event staff daintily blowing bubbles, and we clanged spoons against glasses so many times that they might have gotten annoyed with all the kissing. But we might have left early, as that’s about all I remember from the reception.

It’s crazy looking back, thinking how grown up she was, how great it must be for her to be an adult and get married! Now I’m fast approaching 28, and I’m like, Wow! She was so young! They’re still married, btw. They have two kids. She’s a CEO of a hospital. So really, 18 years later, they’re still “goals”, if you get what I mean.

The next wedding I attended was a couple of years later, again for a cousin. This time, it was one of my male cousins, tying the knot at age 20. The dress (as 12-year-old me was most invested in) was similar to my other cousin’s tulle gown from two years before, and there may or may not have been a tiara? The bridesmaids were also wearing blue and pink, and I remember thinking it must have been a cotton candy theme. Anyway, the reception was a potluck reception– the only one I’ve been to, although I’ve heard they’re growing into more of a thing these days– and I remember we didn’t bring food and we also brought a cousin from my mom’s side that was spending a few weeks with us, and I was really stressed about whether or not he was really “allowed” to be there.

The next lasting-impression wedding I attended was when I was 16– the first wedding of any of my friends. Growing up, our church “youth-group” usually had about fifteen kids in it, but there was a standing roster of a few key families. The groom of this wedding was the oldest of the “friend group”, and I was the baby. The bride and groom had dated for years by the time they finally got married, even though they were 19 and 22 respectively. He already had a business of some kind and they were both in nursing school. I was away at boarding school during all the planning and wasn’t offended when I wasn’t included in the wedding party. I only arrived home from school three days before the wedding itself, and I was invited to all the group events over the weekend.

The wedding itself was a garden wedding, and the first wedding I attended that wasn’t in a church. I remember it was hot, since they got married in the early evening on the first Sunday in June– in Houston– but very romantic in feel. There was a string quartet, the flowers were white and yellow roses, the dresses and suits were navy, and the bride’s dress was beaded ivory. The reception was in the event center’s reception all, and the guests were seated at round tables that outlined a dance floor. It was also the first wedding I attended with a seating chart, and my mom and I were seated with other church members. I was raised in one of those traditional denominations where dancing isn’t really a thing, so I was a little confused about the dance floor until the “evening’s entertainment” arrived in the form of some form of Latin dancer that did some sort of bull-fighter thing with the groom…really, it was weird. I found out later that the father-of-the-bride paid for that, and they just didn’t argue. I guess it was entertaining enough, but still left the guests with this look on their face of “……?”

Oh, here is the first of the cake “disasters”. 3 weddings in a row, beginning with this one, I attended weddings that had something wrong with the cake. This was probably the most mild of the three. First, the mother-of-the-bride insisted that she wanted to make the cake herself, even though the couple had budgeted for a professionally made cake. To my knowledge, she had never made wedding cakes before. The first problem was that she made three tiers and did not know how to stack them, so they ended up being three separate cakes. Somebody made the situation better by putting them on various levels of plant stands and decorating the table. However, the fondant coating was impossible to eat, and we ended up scraping the carrot cake out of it like it was a silicon mold instead of icing (which is my favorite part of any cake). So, not the best cake experience. But as you’ll find later, it was not the worst, either.

Anyway, all of these couples are still married and have kids and stuff, living their best lives. That last wedding was the last wedding I attended as a guest for several years.

Fast forward a few more years, to where I will now set up the next entry in this series. I should’ve known, with all these people that got married pretty young in the previous lineup of weddings, that somebody would’ve gotten some ideas as they approached their own 19th birthday. That somebody, of course, was my older brother. He had been dating this girl for about three years. They’d met in high school and went to college together. But my parents were shocked and… I don’t want to say angry, but I definitely wouldn’t not say angry…when he announced he was going to propose to his girlfriend at Christmas. They had good reasons for being against the whole thing. First of all, their relationship had been really rocky as it was, with at least one break up per year and then a lot of arguing and there were things with her family and ya de ya de ya–you know, typical life-isn’t-perfect things.

I knew my parents’ logic was valid, but I also was really excited at the idea of finally being in a wedding, since I spent my entire childhood watching from the audience. I knew my parents had a higher chance of listening to me, mostly because I have better logic and argument skills than my older brother, so I told him if I got to be a bridesmaid, then I would help him out. He said the girlfriend had already talked about that, and obviously all of their collective siblings would be in their wedding, so I got to work on my strategy. I actually took credit for the sway of my parents for several years before my mom informed me that the truth was that they decided that my brother was an adult and just support his decisions, and that my arguments really didn’t hold weight. I think my younger brother was just amused that my parents were fighting with someone other than him.

I don’t know if it was to spite my parents or because he was afraid they would change their minds, but either way, my brother fast-tracked his proposal plans and asked his girlfriend to marry him over Thanksgiving, instead of Christmas. Within a week they had a date set for June, allowing them 7 months to plan their wedding. Originally they planned to get married in their college town with a small ceremony with their immediate families and whatever friends could make it. However, the bride’s parents insisted on hosting the wedding in their hometown, which was, what I have henceforth referred to, as The-Middle-Of-Nowhere, Kansas.

And thus began my journey of being “always a bridesmaid”, and I had no idea how unromantic weddings actually were…

A New Heading

I haven’t blogged in a couple of months. Actually, the only blogging I did this year was more of a self-reflection of college and career choices — choices that ultimately led to years of waffling around in my 20s. The last blog post I did any updating was “The Post Christmas Blues”. That entry came from a very discouraged place in my heart, and ended with my conclusion that I had no idea how to progress my life from Christmas 2020 to Christmas 2021.

But I knew I had to do something, so I pulled myself together (as one does) and came up with a resolution for 2021. I wanted to apply and enroll in a master’s degree program.

When I was in college, the professors always talked about graduate school. I think a lot of students will agree that it feels like a very logical next-step if you don’t have a career lined up or planned out. However, even back then, I literally never wanted to get a masters in music. After my disastrous senior recital, I knew I’d never be accepted to a performance-based program. I never had the aptitude (and let’s be real, any inkling of a desire) for advanced music theory and analysis. I briefly entertained the thought of studying ethnomusicology, but that was more of a hypothetical throw-away.

I went back and forth on pursuing a masters in education. It’s not uncommon for education employers to pay for their teachers’ higher degrees, and it would allow me to potentially be an administrator in the future. I didn’t find love or passion in my education or certification classes, but I didn’t hate them, and they weren’t difficult. Had I stayed on a more consistent teaching path, I might have gone on to earn an M.Ed.

But being mostly unemployed the last two years, I knew that I wanted to focus on a masters degree in a field that I really wanted to study. If I was going to go another 20k-30k into debt, I was going to do it for something I loved, as well as something that could open new career paths.

I’ve been a writer my entire life. I could go into great detail about the many manuscripts I’ve started (and the small percentage that I’ve actually finished). I’ve come close to self-publishing multiple times. It had always been strictly a hobby–mostly because I was mortified at the idea of anyone reading something I’d written. (17-year-old Annie would have died if she knew you were reading this.) But the truth is, I always loved it more than music. The first time I entertained the idea of earning an MFA was in 2016, the year before I went to Tulsa. At the time, I felt there was no way I could afford to go, and I didn’t think it would open any more opportunities than my bachelor’s degree. I tucked away the notion for a few years.

After I stepped away from full-time teaching, had a quarter-life crisis and reevaluated my life (not to mention 2020 came into our lives like an obnoxious, audacious lion), I’d changed in a few fundamental ways. First, I wasn’t afraid to have people read my writing anymore. In fact, I may have shocked my closest friends by announcing this secret hobby I’d been hiding my entire life. An acquaintance from my early years of college posted an open invitation to a writing accountability group that I accepted, and so I gained some more friends with similar interests. Additionally, now being in my late twenties, more of my friends also have or are earning their masters degrees, and I had a much better understanding of the process. Last fall I did a lot of research, but the idea of the debt continued to hold me back.

I finally came to terms with the money and committed to apply to multiple schools by the end of the month. Because of where I’m at in life, I decided to look for online programs. I spent a lot of time on the phone and online talking to admission and enrollment councilors. I reached out to various communities to ask for advice and suggestions. I narrowed down a short list for recommendation letters (which was originally going to be several paragraphs of this post, but I decided just to let you know that the Wind Symphony director from my “Why I Left Music” series was one of them, and I’ll just let you deduce the emotional rollercoaster that became for me). Once I applied, I had to polish up writing samples, figure out how the heck statement of purposes work for humanities (because the internet is obsessed with science-driven SOPs) and finally, after a relieving acceptance letter, I enrolled in an MFA program in the one I had been most interested in from the beginning.

I had originally planned to start in the fall and have a few months to save up money. But after my FAFSA was approved to cover the majority of my expenses, I was convinced to begin in the upcoming term. Therefore, (coincidentally) on the same date that I graduated with my bachelors in 2015, I began my MFA in Creative Writing. The past three weeks have been a lot of work and adjustment, but I think I’m finally getting the hang of it. Both classes I’m in have posted grades this week, and I’m thrilled to tell my handful of followers that I currently have As in both!

It’s crazy to think that after my first ten years of adult hood, this is where I am now. I don’t have a fully developed plan for my career, or even for my degree program right this moment, but I know that it’s a step in the right direction. The discouragement I felt just after Christmas drove me to make changes in my life. After a full year of unstable employment and waffling around, I’m now in school, have a steady part-time job, and a destination for my next chapter of life.

This was really just an update post, so it’s shorter with less reflection. But perhaps you saw yourself in my story. Maybe you know someone that feels aimless in life. I’ll just leave my handful of followers with these words, the constant reminder of my posts: eat, pray, and keep on.

Why I Left Music: Part Three

If you’ve read my blog before, you probably know that I used to be a music teacher. In Part One (read it here) I elaborated on the red flags I had in my college career. Long story short, I was far from the star student, a department reject, and a failure at performance. In Part Two (read it here) I managed to graduate. After many dead ends, I got a job at a school full of red flags in East Texas. It only lasted a year, and then I took a year off before I found a school that really seemed to fit me in Tulsa, OK. After two years of empty promises, I made the hard decision to leave. Before the school year ended, I had an interview opportunity in California at a school that I considered a dream job.

It was Week of Prayer when I returned to work the Monday after my interview. Now, if you’re not familiar with Christian school systems or the traditional “Week of Prayer” (in college sometimes they called it “Week of Spiritual Emphasis” to sound cool or something, I don’t know) what happens is that time for a special service or program is carved out of the school schedule every day so students can have a concentrated focus on an aspect of spirituality. I’ve only experienced one for every semester of every year I spent in Christian schools, so I wasn’t expecting this one to be as memorable as it became. Capping it off was homecoming weekend, so my high school choir has one of their last performances of the year. We’d been working on Craig Courtney’s “Our Father”, which is an arrangement of the Lord’s Prayer. Courtney is one of my favorite choral composers, and the song was just the right amount of challenging for the students to excel at it.

The week started out well. My colleague/good friend that was my connection to the job originally, the Math Teacher, invited a team of two semi-local pastors (shoutout to Two Guys and the Word) to come do a series for our 7-12th grade students. I don’t really remember the details of the series. They were funny and interacted with the kids. They hung out for a couple of ours after chapel ended so interact with the students in their school environments. Because we had a performance coming up, I had choir every day instead of just two days that week. Monday went as I expected it to, although I knew we’d have to really improve by our performance on Saturday. I was mostly sure that I was going to get the job in California, and I thought as soon as I knew, that’s when I could tell the kids that I was leaving.

Tuesday is when it all went to hell. I got a call during my planning period from the principal in California. She used the infamous words, they’d “decided to go in another direction.” I was obviously disappointed, but my disappointment was amplified by the fact that this had now happened multiple times. This was hiring season #5 where I would have another dead end. I would pick up an inevitable, terrible job in the fall–or move back in with my mother. This was the second time that I’d thought I had landed a dream job. And the hiring season was almost over this time. There wouldn’t be any last minute redemption for me. Even though some of my kids knew I was leaving, the majority did not. I was close to my high school kids, and I decided I would just let them find out when it was announced at the spring concert the following week.

Unfortunately, I am not a poker face type of person. I was in a bad mood the rest of the week. All of my emotions couldn’t be contained. We didn’t make the progress that we should have on our song. Wednesday through Friday, I felt like all the kids did was mess around, and all I did was snap at them. I taught many classes that week on the verge of tears but unable to say anything. Most of the teachers didn’t even know. The layers didn’t stop there. Two Guys and the Word had carefully crafted their 5 day series to get serious on Thursday and Friday. The topic I remember was what to do when you’re angry, either with someone or with God. And let me tell you if you didn’t assume so already–I was very angry with God. And I’m not normally one to blame my problems on God. I didn’t even blame God when my dad died when I was nineteen. I knew better than to assume God didn’t care about me. I had seen his work in my teaching career thus far, and it’s not like an opportunity that had failed two years before hadn’t led me to being in Tulsa with my kids that I loved. There was no reason for me to assume that this lost opportunity wouldn’t lead to bigger and better things. Still, no matter how much I tried to talk myself out of my emotions, I couldn’t help it. I was angry. The talks that the pastors had crafted for the teenagers were hitting home way harder for me.

It all came to a head that Friday night. I had to come to terms with the week. I cried for hours. But when I stopped, I knew I was done. I had to move on. I had wronged my kids by taking out my frustrations on them. I spent the rest of the night coming up with a good apology, because I knew we couldn’t perform the next day until I had made things right.

Saturday morning the kids met me in our normal practice space. The space was actually shared with the church so the tables were set up for lunch that day, and we had to move them out of the way. We did some warm ups for a few minutes before I told them to sit down. I asked them to listen carefully and respectfully because I might not get through what I needed to tell them. I told them it was a rough week and it wasn’t their fault. I told them I was leaving. I told them I had been in California for a job interview– a dream job I didn’t get. I told them it wasn’t the first time I’d lost a dream job. I told them that when I came to Tulsa, it was less than ideal, but it was money and a hopeful future. I told them that Tulsa wasn’t my dream job, but they were my dream kids (met with a lot of awws and I said, “thanks, I rehearsed” and we laughed). I told them I had wanted to tell them that I was moving on to bigger and better things, but now I was just telling them that I had to leave. And then I told them that I had realized the night before that I had been there for two years, and I had never really done my job–not in the way that mattered most.

In high school and college all of my teachers and professors seemed to have a knack for weaving the music together with devotional thoughts or passionate theology. I’ve never been good with speaking the way I’d seen them to be. I had never known how to convince kids that were being forced to sing for a grade that despite their lack of choice in the matter, what they were doing was important to God. (I’m also not a fan of using God to guilt-trip kids into doing things). But now I knew I had something to tell them, which I will now also tell you.

As I mentioned, we were doing “Our Father” by Craig Courtney. If you’re not familiar with the Lord’s prayer, there’s a part that goes, “thy will be done”. It’s hard to say thy will be done when you feel like it’s screwed you over. It’s hard to pray at all when you feel like God has done nothing but let you down for the past four years. In a way, I couldn’t say it at all. There’s a famous saying: “When words fail, music speaks.” That’s what music is for. That’s what makes it a ministry. Even though I refused to say it, when I heard the words thy will be done, God hears the struggles on your heart. He knows the prayer that a conflicted, angry, and hurt soul needs to pray without you having that same surrender. I told the kids, we don’t sing for ourselves, even though yes, some of them were only there for a grade. We have to sing for people in the audience that maybe are a lot worse off than not getting a job. Maybe a man has received a hard diagnosis. Maybe a teenager has been kicked out of her house. Maybe someone did lose another dream job. Maybe someone would have to say goodbye to her dream kids in only two short weeks. When we sing a song that is meant to be a prayer, we indirectly pray on behalf of anyone that is listening.

That day was the best performance my high schoolers ever did. We performed the same song at our spring concert a few days later (although because of a whole other story it was less than perfect). I have a recording of the spring performance that I watch sometimes when I miss them or know I have to remember the lesson I had to teach both myself and my kids that day. Even though I was heartbroken to leave Tulsa, I knew I had done right by my kids. Somehow I knew that if I never taught music again, I had fulfilled my purpose.

Meanwhile, Bob (remember, my friend Bob from Part 2?) was just as upset as (and sometimes I think more than) I was about my job fall-through. He tried to get me a job at his school in Cali, but too many details reminded me of past mistakes I’d made. It was part-time, there were some promises without evidence, it was a “potential” stepping stone to bigger and better things…I knew I couldn’t go. I humored him at the beginning, since we were both upset. But I had already moved in with my mom when I got a call for an interview. By then I was tired from packing and unpacking. I felt confused. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My mom insisted that another year off would do me good, and I knew I couldn’t keep taking risks because I was desperate. I declined to even meet with the hiring committee. I knew I might live to regret it, but at least I wouldn’t be across the country with no money. I signed up to be a substitute teacher in the Tyler school district.

Around this time I was granted my teaching certification (that Tulsa paid for, thanks to my second-year negotiations) and I found out that I effectively had a minor in history (overlooked by both my college advisor and the graduation registrar at my alma mater–the only thing I would have needed was a minor thesis) that granted me full teaching credentials for high school social studies within our school system. I started to look into state certification for social studies. The biggest difference between my system-specific certification and the national/state ones is the standardized testing requirement, so I knew it wouldn’t be difficult to get if I could pass the test. However, one look at the music test told me that I was never going to make it as a music teacher in the state system. Even if I learned all the material, I’ve never been a good tester. I was in the top 30% of my graduating high school class, but I only had a 21 on the ACT. I only made A’s in AP English, but failed to pass the test. I failed my undergraduate exit exam, but nobody knows but me since they only use it for statistics and data. My history of failures continued to haunt me the longer I researched certification.

I spent the next several months substituting in my local high schools. I had a long-term English position for about six weeks where they even offered to help me get certified if I was interesting in taking on the position permanently. I didn’t have a real desire to teach English, though, and it was clear the priority was the STARR tests (which, spoiler alert, they cancelled a month after the job ended because of the pandemic, and I have a whole separate rant on why they need to either eradicate the tests or seriously revise their content). I enjoyed substituting, though. I liked main main schools. I found that I enjoyed teaching in a traditional, non-music classroom almost as much, if not more, than I had teaching ensembles. Outside of my long-term assignment, I didn’t do a lot of instruction. Substitute teachers being “glorified babysitters” is an understatement, especially at the high school level. I often was able to sit, write, or research while on the job.

Hiring season came around once again– hiring season #6. I began to browse through the music jobs out of habit, but I only applied to social studies positions. (See my first blog post, “Happiness is not a Job“, for that emotional roller coaster.) I applied to several schools. This time, I didn’t get a single callback or reply email. I got laid off from substitute teaching because of the pandemic. Our world was also turned upside-down when my mom’s company offered impressive retirement incentives to prevent unnecessary layoffs. After she retired, we moved home to Houston.

That’s how it all seemed to come full circle. It was now 2020 and I was back in the same house I had come home to in 2016. At first, I thought I had taken four steps back. Then, slowly, I realized that the last four years of experience had changed me. Working with the teenagers, experiencing personal injustice, endlessly searching for answers–it had upgraded the way I approached problems.

To be brutally honest and vulnerable with you, I was terrified of asking the question, “What if God doesn’t want me to be a music teacher? What if I’m fighting God’s will? Who am I supposed to be, if not a music teacher? What am I, if not a musician?” To ask the questions is the only way to get them answered. I began to really look back on my musical career. I kept thinking that the fact I survived my program was a sure sign of God’s will for my life. But now, as I took a long, hard, painful look back on my career and college before, I realized that the positives I had been clinging to were gone. They had been for some time, in fact. We had been close-knit in college, but once we went our separate ways, I fell out of touch with most of them. I have very few friends from college left. Even Bob and I had a fallout after I declined the job opportunity. Music as a hobby had turned me off ages before, when I realized that I did not retain enough of my education to keep up with technical music conversation. Unless speaking with an amateur, any conversation I had about the topic led to a shameful embarrassment on my part. There was even one Christmas where I had a conversation about modes with my cousins, who are amateur guitarists in varying genres, and I was lost in the first thirty seconds. And of course, my musical jobs, while speckled with good times, served to teach me harsh lessons instead of an overabundance of the rewarding teaching life that I’d imagined. I also knew that, while I was headed in a good direction with Tulsa, I would never be a competitive music instructor that had a niche or groove that stood out from the rest.

I became very bitter about music during that time of questioning. I even became annoyed and angry when I realized that even my church or extended family didn’t seem to know anything about me other than that I was musically “talented”. Music was my only identity–not only to me, but to the world around me, except perhaps my closest friends and family. I have many other qualities and even some hobbies that I’ve talked about on this blog before, but I almost always get asked about the “drums” and when I’m going to get another music teaching job. Sometimes people send me job postings. Sometimes I get asked endless questions on if I’d ever play professionally, and where do I keep my timpani, and why don’t I join a community group? I know that they mean well, but the questions accidentally became a test of who has really kept up in my life–who really cares…and the list is painfully short.

At first, these instances added to my insecurities as I continued asking the questions. I thought by asking, “What if God doesn’t want me to be a music teacher?” I would be answered, “Then you will never find your true path.” I thought by asking, “What if I’m fighting God’s will?” I would be answered, “That’s why you deserved all the terrible things that happened to you.” I thought by asking, “Who am I supposed to be, if not a music teacher?” the answer would be, “A failure that couldn’t even make it as a music teacher in subpar systems.” And worst of all, I thought if I asked, “What am I, if not a musician?” the answer would be, “Nobody.”

But as I get older, I am finding more and more everyday that life is not so black-and-white. I did receive that answers to my questions, and–Praise God!–the answers changed my life.

“What if God doesn’t want me to be a music teacher? What if I’m fighting God’s will?” If God never wanted me to be a music teacher, he would have closed every door from the very beginning. He needed me to be in East Texas when I was. He needed me to be at Tulsa when I was. I didn’t realize it right away, but over the last two years I’ve had multiple former students to reach out to me to tell me that they knew they knew that I loved God and loved them. Even more so, none of them were in the group that I shared that defining moment with in Tulsa just before I left. Whenever I hear “Our Father”, I know that God wanted me there and I served my purpose. Just because he doesn’t want me in music anymore doesn’t mean that he didn’t have a deeper purpose for me in those rough years, and it doesn’t mean that the injustices that happened to me were a part of some sort of punishment. In fact, I now think that those harsh environments conditioned me to be far more resilient than I ever was as a collegiate or a young teacher. I sometimes wonder how different those environments would have been if I could stand my ground then the same way I do now with ease.

“Who am I supposed to be, if not a music teacher?” There’s a lot more depth to the question itself. A lot of my identity was associated with my career because I’ve never been one for relationships. It’s not that I didn’t want them, because I had my eye on a variety of men over the years, but I never saw myself getting married right out of college or giving up everything to travel the world with a guy. But this meant that while every other girl on Facebook got a boyfriend, then engaged, then married, and then had a baby (most of my friends are now on second and third rounds of babies) the only thing I really had to show for myself was a diploma and a resume. But now, without that, I didn’t have anything. I moved back in with my mom. We moved back in with my brother and his wife. While I’ve preached that life is more than a career or family for years, it took all of this to get me on a path to understanding it for myself on a deeper level.

“What am I, if not a musician?” Well…I am a musician. It is sorrowful to me that timpani is a closed chapter in my life (a 15-year, gradual progressive case of carpal tunnel syndrome has rendered me physically unable to play) but I am still a regular church pianist. I still sing for my own enjoyment. I still play ukulele to think of my students. I don’t have to be a professional musician to be a musician. But I am more than just a musician. In fact, the title “musician” can get in line behind everything else. The most important thing I want to be associated with isn’t a hobby or a career or a family. It’s Christ. If I follow my top priority to inhibit a little more of His character every day, then the rest will fall into place in His time.

The past ten years of my life have not been easy (and they seem really short when I pack them into three blog posts). I’m not going to lie, I don’t have a super clear path ahead. All the questions have not been answered. But if you’ve been reading my blog for a while (or even just looked at the title) you know it’s all about “keeping on”. Music is no longer a defining part of my life. I am no longer interested in pursuing music jobs. I might not teach for a long time, and I don’t think I’ll be taking any jobs in our church schools for a while. But that’s okay. In fact, it’s great! I was missing out on so many things because I was obsessed with fitting into a box I’d created for myself. Even though my resume looks like a list of failures with no current employment in the top slot, my life is more abundant and fulfilling now than it ever was before.

Lastly, if you’re in an identity crisis of your own, consider these words of wisdom that took me ten years to apply to my own life: your world is not black-and-white. You are more than you think you are. You are more than what others think of you. You’re definitely more than your transcripts or your resume, and your worth is not defined by earthly measures. If you think you’ve messed up, know that I have moved six times in five years; there has never been a place where God has not used me, nor has there ever been a place God has not changed me. Your mistakes are not obstacles for His will in your life. Don’t be afraid to let it all go and never look back.

That being said….never say never.

Why I Left Music: Part Two

So, as you’ve read in the previous post, I spent my college career constantly trying to reach a level of music proficiency that, frankly, I never reached. I worked hard in my wind ensemble, both with performance and leadership. But the director, my Advisor, fell into a constant habit of criticizing me to the point where I never knew if I was actually at fault. Dr. E changed the game when he recruited me to the orchestra. In my upperclassman years, I finally achieved proper ensemble performance. My solo performance was a different story. My first two years, I didn’t have a real percussion teacher. When I finally did get one, there was no way he could have crammed four years of professional tutorship into the two I had left. The most difficult piece in my senior recital has been categorized as junior level repertoire. For reasons that are still largely unknown to me, I was not permitted to perform in regular recitals for almost two and a half years. This led to a severe case of performance anxiety that crippled me during my senior recital, thus producing the performance that I still consider to be the greatest failure of my life. Yet, despite all the signs that I should have quit right then and there, I persevered into the real world.

Something else you should know is that my alma mater did not offer a Music Education degree at the time of my attendance. They were just booting up the program my junior year, and if I’d switched tracks I would’ve spent three or four extra semesters in college. I had been advised as a freshman to get my performance degree and find a job that would pay for my certification. While that was the usual way music teachers did it up until the late 2000s, by 2015 that path was outdated. That’s a fact I learned the hard way.

Quick Rewind: let’s back up a bit to January of my senior year. There were two music majors that were going to graduate that year, both of us on the same performance degree/teacher-cert-later track. One was me (hello, yes, we’ve met). Let’s call the other Bob. Bob was a clarinetist, but it seemed he was well-versed in all areas of the department. He could play most wind instruments at a first-year level. He could accompany most pieces on piano. He was a lead baritone in choir. He arranged the bulk of our church performance music. He was even recognized for a piece he arranged for our senior year music festival, the largest audience of the year. The professors loved him, and with good reason. I’ll never say that Bob didn’t deserve the hype. We were actually good friends at the time. He was the instrumental librarian and equipment manager, so with the overlap from our classes, ensemble-related equipment work, and a larger friend circle, we spent almost all of our time together that year. We worked on one another’s resumes and cover-letters for music teaching jobs for the fall of 2015. Bob started applying way earlier than I did. By the end of January, he was getting interviews. He was all but set-up for his dream job when it fell through and they went “another direction”, and it devastated him.

When this happened, I had just started applying for jobs. I talked him into applying to some himself. One specifically I applied to in California had similar parameters to the job he’d just lost in the running. He told me he wasn’t interested, and I insisted he consider it. Because we had the same background on paper, we had a lot of overlap in references. One day the Cali job called Advisor (whom you’ll remember from the previous post) and asked him for a reference for me. The way Advisor told me about it, they were looking for more names to have more options, so he gave them Bob’s (and was I okay with that? he wanted to know) I didn’t know what else to say, so I tried to take the high road and told him if Bob was better for the school, then so be it. I don’t know what actually happened on the phone call because Bob heard a different version from the hirers later. He of course went on to three rounds of interviews and did get the job. They paid for his certification and now they’re paying for his masters degree. That’s right, he still works there. And to be honest, I think he’s done way more for them than I ever could have.

It might have put a riff in our friendship for a minute, but I applied to seven schools that year, and I think both Bob and I assumed that my job offer would be right around the corner. But after I interviewed at three schools and never made it past a first round, I began to think that I wasn’t going to be a music teacher that year. I left the dormitory after graduation and our choir trip to Europe and moved in with my mom, who lived in Waco, TX at the time. Waco wasn’t far from my friends but visits were few and far between, and my mom worked long hours. I found that I was lonely and depressed much of the summer. I didn’t know if I could survive being in a city by myself with a job that meant nothing to me. I began to follow any lead I could get my hands on. I even applied to be an assistant dean at a couple boarding academies. But the job that I ended up taking was at an independent private school in East Texas.

This place had so many red flags. A week after my first interview, the principal called me to ask if I was going to use my percussion degree to influence students in a negative way. They required me to sign a contract before I saw the campus. They required that you live in provided housing (and just a heads up, never work somewhere with required provided housing) and they were super shady about their expectations. I found out the month after school started that the school wasn’t even accredited.

Actually, it didn’t take me long at all to discover that nothing about that place was academically (or, scary enough, literally) sound. Three out of eight teachers had bachelor degrees. My roommate was the only one certified with any sort of certification. The rest were in college but had not completed anything. One of the teachers had been “finishing his degree” for six years. The administration were business people and were primarily concerned with getting the most for the least amount of money we could spend. The curriculum was 100% online because they didn’t want to buy textbooks, but the internet was so bad that at least two days a week classes would be cancelled or, at the most, given busy-work.

Music was both part of and an exception to this problem. I tried to integrate actual standards for my classes and not just prep them for performances, which was the expectation. Most of my kids relied on memorization to learn their parts and couldn’t read music. When I tried to fix it, the admin wanted to know why they didn’t spend more time on performance prep. I also had a responsibility to run music in chapel every day (yes, every day) and these kids did not want to sing. I eventually got a class-team-situation going, and then choir sign-up requirements, because I couldn’t lead chapel by myself. However, I will say that I tripled my piano proficiency to save that chapel experience, and that never would’ve happened otherwise. My piano skills helped me boost my choir rehearsals as well, but I still got a lot of misunderstanding when it came to my academic structure of choir as a class. I could write a whole post on the East Texas school and why I left, but I think it’s better to just remain a year of lessons learned in my life and move on. It seems like such a small part of the story these days…

It was a rough year, but not without some good outcomes. In addition to re-learning piano, I absolutely loved teaching handbell choir. I made a few really good friends (one of which, my roommate, sadly passed away a few years later). I learned a lot of what not to do while teaching, and saved enough money to pay my students loans for more than a year after I stopped working. However, I was more than ready to leave when the year ended. Publicly, I blamed the low pay, but the truth is that money was the least of my problems. The academic pushback was probably at the top of the list, followed by: subpar living conditions, the isolated location, gilt-tripping manipulation and multiple disagreements over student discipline with the administration. I think part of that place was just as happy to see me leave.

Administration and other cons aside, teaching itself seemed to change me on a cellular level. I really liked working with teenagers. I’ve always been a bit of a softy, so learning to stand up for myself with both them and my older colleagues seemed to go hand-in-hand. I found that it was much easier to gain respect from the teens. I had been given advice early on that I had to stand my ground and assert my authority, but I found the more I tried, the more prideful and hypocritical I came across. I turned to new methods. I learned how to hear out a student’s concerns and excuses. I tried to give an occasional second chance. I was open to student suggestions. I tried to have fair discipline and logical consequences that went beyond grades and write-ups (which were so inconsistent with the admin that I might as well have saved my paper). Furthermore, I knew that I would have to educate myself on being an educator. Since I had no education classes and an administration that believed all you needed was more faith, I did the research myself. By the end of the year, I felt I’d aged a decade. But it was worth it. I think my students knew that I wanted to do right by them. I kept up with some of them for a while, and occasionally still chat with a couple of them if they pop up on Instagram. One kid recently (five years later) said he’d learned to play an old choir song on piano and wanted me to know that I’d inspired him–and he wasn’t even one of my closest students.

I left East Texas and returned home to Houston. I had a couple of phone interviews, but nothing substantial that year. I signed up to be a substitute teacher at my local church school and public district. I looked into teaching certification but couldn’t afford it, and I knew after one look at the practice test that I might never be able to teach in public school. I understood that my level of teaching was already low, and my level of performance even lower. That year was the first time I realized I might not make it as a music teacher in the long term. The red flag school in East Texas had left a sour taste in my mouth, and I wasn’t so sure teaching was for me.

This is where Bob comes back into the story. As I said, we were good friends. We had corresponded constantly since we’d parted ways after our last post-graduation performance. He’s probably one of the only things that got me through the red flag school. The summer of 2016, after I quit, we went from texting every couple of days to a constant stream of communication. I told him about the research I’d been doing and my doubts that I could pass a board exam. He insisted I could do it, but to this day I am convinced that he did not understand how much more difficult musical technicalities were for me. When I told him I thought I might not return to teaching at all, he tried to convince me otherwise. He said that I had to try a “real” school– a school with accreditation and accountability. I wasn’t convinced I would ever be hired at one. After all, I had now gone two hiring seasons without a “real” job. Bob wasn’t ready to give up on me, though, and he invited me to spend a week with him in California to see what his job was actually like.

I assumed that going to observe Bob would just remind me how inferior I was to him as a musician, but the trip actually proved the opposite. The school in California was a much better school than the one in East Texas. His position spanned K-12 instead of the secondary position I’d had at the red flag school. It had both vocal and instrumental programs, as well as general elementary that Bob taught and directed. He strategically planned my stay around a performance, and I ended up doing some work myself. I saw his levels of band and even helped with his percussionists. I watched him teach elementary classes to cute little kiddos and aided in teaching his lesson. I helped his kids with hand bell choir since that was something new to his school that year and I had a year experience. I would say that Bob succeeded in convincing me that my terrible school had been at least half my problem.

I was still unemployed when I returned to Houston and only a quarter into the school year, but I knew I needed to try to land a good school before I quit my entire career plan. I still had six months before high-tide hiring season. I found ways to improve my chances. I was asked to run an honors choir at the church school, and I went twice a week to meet with 10 dedicated kids. I ran a children’s ministry at my church. I took on leadership responsibilities with the youth department. I became a regular pianist and praise team member–something I never would have done prior to my work in East Texas, but was now something that I was uniquely suited for in my group. Sometimes I call that year my year in ministry, because the awakening I found while teaching only deepened with my work with the church. My priorities were shifting and realigning. In hindsight, I can see that I was becoming less selfish.

I participated in the old alma mater music festival that year. Bob brought some of his students, and our younger friends were still in school. Those first few years after graduation I helped the alma mater a lot. That year my friends and I were heavily involved with the program. It was one of my favorite years. I left the festival with new invigoration. I wanted to take my own students again. I wanted students to be as excited as the event and the content as I had been for (at that point) ten years. When I returned to the church school in Houston (where only 10 kids out of the whole school wanted to participate at all) I knew what I wanted to pray for.

The festival was in February, which is early hiring season. When I came home, I prayed for God to give me a school that 1) needed me in ways other schools didn’t and 2) had kids that had a desire to sing. There were more items on an ideal list, like teaching band and hand bells, maybe some strings here and there, but those two were the big ones. When March came around, I got a call to interview in California. The school was perfect: it was K-10, included band, choir, and hand bells, and was two hours away from Bob if I needed a friend. The people were really nice and agreed that if I was hired, they would pay for my teaching certification and I could get started that summer. Not only was this basically my dream job, I felt confident that this was my big shot…so you can imagine my disappointment when I did not get the job in the end. Of course, if you’ve read my blog for a while, you might have already known I didn’t get it.

When I was interviewing in California I started getting texts from a close friend that lived near Tulsa, Oklahoma. He said the school there had recently lost a music teacher and needed one for the upcoming school year. I had replied that I had a good prospect and I wasn’t interested. When it all fell apart, I felt once again that maybe God didn’t want me to be a teacher after all. I wasn’t cut out for the real world of music teaching. I got a text from my friend’s brother-in-law, who was the math teacher at the school and–incidentally–had also been one of my percussionists in my first year of college wind symphony. I first said I wasn’t interested again, but after realizing I was running out of money (and living with my siblings was rough, as you might also have read before in my blog), I agreed to speak with the principal. It all happened so fast. I had an interview that very day, but I was disappointed to hear the job would only be part-time and with full-time responsibilities. However, the principal insisted that the job could be approved for full time by the time school started, and if not, he was fairly certain the spring semester. The school said they were desperate to find someone that could be flexible with their arrangement–someone who had taught choir before, especially high school students, had experience with the younger kids (that I had from my church ministry), could lead praise team chapel once a week, and could live off a small amount of money for the time being. I agreed to visit the school before they officially hired me (although I found out later that the staff thought I was already a done deal). I liked what I saw, for the most part. It was less than a day’s drive to my mom’s (she now lived in Tyler, TX). It was half a day drive to Dallas. My close friend that had the connection to begin with and his wife lived an hour away, and, unlike the California school, much of the staff were millennials, as I am. The thing that really sealed it for me was that so many of the staff told me while I was there, “Our kids really just want to be able to sing again.”

And that’s how I moved to Tulsa. Like East Texas, I could write a whole blog post. There were a lot of good things, and I’d even say that the good outweighed the bad. I used the lessons I’d learned from East Texas to start off on a stronger foot with my students. Not that it was easy. I had no idea what kind of situation I’d walked into. The previous music teacher had been fired for emotionally and verbally abusing and manipulating students. She had been married to the principal, and there was a lot of shady stuff with money there. They had left in February that year, only a week before Math Teacher saw me at music fest and found out I needed a job. The new principal was the one that hired me, but neither of us knew how tough it would be to earn the trust of the traumatized students.

Still, by Christmas I felt as if I’d found my people. I found a “groove” early on. Aside from troublesome students and/or parents, I had few complaints. My first year I taught four elementary music classes, a junior high choir, high school choir, and high school government. The elementary classes were half block, so they met for only thirty minutes. My official load was only five classes of teaching, and six is full time. It took a while to learn the names of my 100+ students, but I found good friends among the other teachers. We had good praise teams for chapel once a week. I produced a large-scale program at Christmas that first year. We had a smaller spring program, but equally as successful. I felt I was more than earning my meager salary, and I thought I had proven that I deserved to be sent to full-time, as the principal had promised.

However, when rehiring season came, I was stunned to learn that I had not been rehired by the board. However, I later found out (always later with Tulsa, because honesty apparently is a weakness) that the vote was unofficial because they had taken it by email (and hiring votes are supposed to be in-person board meetings) in which only four out of the required six had replied at all. I heard two different versions: the first was that the board had decided not to fund my position for the next year. The second was that there had been classroom management complaints. I knew there were management complaints, but I had been dealing with them all year, and my principal nor the teacher he had assigned to “mentor” me had not once observed my classes. The whole thing felt very unfair, and more like excuses to get rid of the measly amount of money the school spent on me. I spent three weeks very angry and upset. I really loved my school and my job. I loved my coworkers. I knew I’d never get such a perfect fit again. When my principal felt guilty enough to retract the vote (that’s when I found out it was never “official” to begin with) I was so angry that I had half a mind to leave out of spite. Not to mention that this was now the third semester in a row that I’d been “promised” a promotion to full-time pay, and there was no sign of it anywhere.

But I decided to stay. I still had the “potential” to get promoted to full time, and I couldn’t bare the idea of starting over somewhere else after I had finally figured out my own style with these kids.

My second year at Tulsa was even better than the first. I already knew the students, making me twice as prepared as a first year teacher. I had made plans for the classes all summer. I got to teach American history, which I really enjoyed, and I started a ukulele program with upper elementary and middle school. All of my elementary classes were adjusted to be full class time, and I picked up upperclassman religion. However, I had only gotten a $50 per month raise to now teach nine full-time classes, and I was soon in a battle over things like hours and pay–a battle that I was told could be a lawsuit, if I really wanted it to be. Long story short, there were a lot of hours I worked that I never logged under direction of my boss, because the school “couldn’t afford” to pay me the full time. He again promised me an eventual pay raise. By then I knew it was an empty thing he just said to keep me around. I had already watched him give away a granted position to someone else (although it fell through for her so at that point I was happy not to be the recipient). I had seen the school spend 300k on a curb appeal makeover, but still refused to spend more than 18k a year on my salary. Tulsa has lower costs of living, but not that low. My mom was paying three of my bills. Sometimes I was almost late on rent because the school screwed up my paycheck by trying to cut corners. I was the only teacher getting paid half pay for teaching nine classes. My savings were sucked dry by any little thing that came up. I was out of money and out of options. When the school board declined to up me to full time for my third year, I declined their offer to return.

It broke my heart when I decided to leave Tulsa. I loved my kids and my coworkers. I even liked my boss–generally–despite his lack of awareness of the situation he had put me in. I was finally building a program and making it mine. I hate to tell people that I left because of money. I think they get the impression that I was making 30k and wanted 50. The truth is that I would have been happy to stay for 25. I finished my teaching cert at their expense, but I refused to sign another contract because I knew the next year would be more classes, less money, and more fighting. I told my boss in March. I started telling my coworkers in April. I told a close-knit group of my oldest students around that time.

I started interviewing again (counting my three weeks of job-hunting the previous year, this was now my fifth hiring season). My resume looked better than ever. I had better references. Better experience. Teaching certification, and three years of experience: everything anyone wants in a good hire. By now, I had a new list of things I wanted: 1) to finally teach band, because I still hadn’t done that. 2) to teach history or other social studies in addition to music. 3) get paid full salary. Like before, I had smaller things that went with that–hand bells, maybe ukulele, praise team–but those were the big three. I got a call from another school in California for an interview. We initially met on zoom, and I felt the interview didn’t go well. They didn’t seem impressed with me. I was overjoyed when they invited me for an in-person interview. I didn’t tell my students that I was leaving town: instead, I told them I had a personal day. I only missed two days of school. They had no idea I flew to the other side of the country and back. That school was also K-12, and while it didn’t have social studies included, it had band, choir, orchestra, and was a full-time position. The church was lovely and I even knew people there *insert small world theme music here*. This school was a lot closer to Bob, so I met with him for an afternoon and we got to hang out for the first time in a year, talking about how cool it would be if we could work with one another being so close.

The school itself was everything I wanted in the next chapter of my life. They valued music academically and believed in more than just performance. Their teacher was quitting to raise a family, so there was no drama there. I also felt confident about my abilities with this school. I taught a band class while I was there, and received positive feedback from the principal, teacher, and kids. I also taught an elementary class with the same results. I was terrified to hope for the best, but the longer I was there, the more I thought my time had come and my years of paying dues were over.

It’s crazy to look back and now and see that I was at the top of my music game only months before I walked away from it completely. Again, previous blog posts might have spoiled the outcome of this interview for you. I thought I was on the verge of the greatest thing that ever happened to me.

And while the outcome is not what I expected, I assure you that I was not wrong. In fact, this was all leading to a defining moment in my life.

I went to Tulsa and had a great two years, but came across a lot of problems with my personal relationship with music. The academics, the parents, etc.

New job interview, also falls through. I knew I had to talk to my kids.

When I left Tulsa, that’s when it fell apart and I really had to reevaluate my plans. Spent the next year at home with my mom, but realized I didn’t want to teach music in public school.

2020 hit. The pandemic changed a lot of things about me, but the biggest thing it did was unravel my identity.

Identity in music.

Why I Left Music: Part One

Music is one of those things, you know? It connects to all of us in some way, shape, or form. It is a pillar of civilization. It is an identifier of culture. It exists in every language and is, in fact, a language of it’s own with many different dialects. Everyone has a relation to music. Even the deaf experience music through vibration, dance, and flowing, expressive sign language. It’s one of the most complex and intricate sciences, and one of the most respected and disciplined arts.

When I tell you that I’ve “left music”, I’m not saying that I’ve stopped listening to it. I’m not saying that I hear a song come on the radio and immediately turn it off. I’m not saying that any mention of a musical instrument causes me to break out in hives, or the sound of someone singing causes me anguish. I’m not writing this to tell you not to play the piano or guitar. I don’t want you to put down your drumsticks. I don’t want you to quit your church choir.

What I mean is, I used to be “a musician”.

I was a musical child. Now, you may have been or have known a musical child. They start instrument lessons at an early age. They play in recitals. They play for churches. Maybe they play a quick song for a family reunion. Perhaps a talent show here and there…

I was a band geek into high school, but my particular high school band experience was a step back from what I had been performing during my home schooled years. It did bring it’s own challenges when my band director asked me to take up the timpani. I had never considered timpani up until that point, but my never-ending desire to feel needed took over and I agreed. I found a purpose with timpani that I didn’t have with mallet percussion. The mallets have a certain level of skill, but I found I excelled far beyond with the challenge that the kettle drums presented. I took great pride in my newfound talent and ownership of the instruments that, while I never personally owned, became a part of my very soul. When I graduated high school, I knew music was going to be my thing.

Most of this first portion of the story is dedicated to my college experience: a foundation I thought would be the pillars of my career. Instead, it was a whole new world for which I was in no way prepared. Because my small Christian college relied on majors to fund their professors’ salaries, most of the departments and programs accepted pretty much anyone that declared their major. The academic bulletin had a list of requirements for entry to the music program. I had prepared for keyboard proficiency and basic music theory as I had learned to do from reading the program description, only to never be given the test. Instead, the professors expected me to perform a solo piece. I had never had a formal timpani or symphonic percussion instructor to give me solo repertoire. My Advisor (not a percussionist) gave me a piece that he thought I could sight-read on marimba with one of the older flute majors for the very first “masterclass”– actually, it was more of a pre-recital, and not a traditional masterclass, so I’ll call it what it is– “pre-recital” of the school year, where we played our pieces for the department (both professors and majors) one week before we would play for the public.

There wasn’t a factor leading up to the pre-recital performance that didn’t seem sabotaged. First, my part in the piece was in bass clef and written for bassoon. I can read the clef for timpani and piano, and in theory marimba shouldn’t be different. However, marimba is generally played in treble clef, and because of that (and I don’t know if it’s an actual psychological excuse or if it’s just a personal problem) Advisor was essentially asking me to relearn the clef while learning an unfamiliar piece. To make matters worse, the flutist had her own stuff going on and kept putting off our practices to the point where we never practiced together. She and I prepared the piece at drastically different tempos and I still hadn’t completely relearned bass clef by the time it was our turn to perform for the professors. I told her that I didn’t feel ready, and she shrugged it off. As an upperclassman, she was used to dealing with far more experienced musicians that were able to show up and do things on the spot. In hindsight, I should have been that advanced even as an incoming freshman.

The performance was a disaster. I highly doubt it even qualifies as a performance. The flutist counted us off, but we were out of sync before the second measure. I swallowed my fears and tried to press on, but four measures in and she stopped us and said, “What are you doing?” I told her where I thought we were, and she told me where she thought we were. The professors were upset with us, but even though I could have argued that the flutist’s lack of professionalism had contributed to the disaster, it was clear they placed most of the blame on me. They dismissed her without a single critique and then didn’t hold back with their disappointment in my playing. I was humiliated in front of the entire department. Even though I was an excellent percussionist in the wind symphony, had I shown no solo talent or potential. They had been expecting something more.

That night, less than two weeks into college, set a precedence for the next four years. I was pretty average in the standard music classes (such as music theories and ear training and sight singing) and even had superior expertise with percussion in the wind symphony. But in recitals and solo-related content, it was obvious from the beginning that I was the bottom of the talent pool. I didn’t have a percussion instructor, so my Advisor (who is actually a clarinetist with brass as his secondary area and also the Wind Symphony director) had me learning snare drum techniques–techniques any incoming percussion major should have known. It wasn’t my first experience with snare, so I learned the rudiments quickly. But since I wasn’t practicing anything else besides marimba scales and had no real repertoire, I performed the snare techniques in my required recitals. I played several with little snare etudes that were written at a high school level. One of the older majors played bass drum to “fill it in”. I received verbal praise and the worst anyone said was “Well, that was different“, but I always felt like my snare performances were a joke. I hated them. They were there to fulfill a requirement. There was nothing musical or even academic about them. I didn’t have a percussion instructor to assign me anything of real substance, and I didn’t have the self drive to overcompensate by doing my own research. I did dig up “Under the Sea” from the Little Mermaid and learned to play it on marimba for a single recital, but with no piano accompaniment, it sounded elementary and I was never fully satisfied…and, since I’m being completely honest, I also thought it turned into a joke. I tried to laugh it off with everyone else, but I knew my credibility as a musician would not be easy to redeem.

My sophomore year is when it really went off the rails. I finished my hated snare drum requirements and moved on to timpani etudes. They were a little more interesting than the snare stuff, but not at all the type of music our usual recital audience was expecting. I often had disagreements with my Advisor in my percussion lessons over timing and entrances, a habit that ended up transferring into my ensemble life. After several weeks, I realized that there wasn’t a wind symphony rehearsal that went by where I was not openly criticized in front of the entire wind symphony. I did my best to improve, but nothing seemed to help. It all came to a head right after my midterm exams that fall.

A little backstory might be required here. When I was in high school and attended the college-level recruiting events (music festivals mostly) I met this kid named…oh, let’s call him Chad. Chad and I were the same class but at different feeder schools, and we both knew we were going to major in music with our primary emphasis on percussion. However, when fall of 2011 came, he went to a different college to pursue a double major in music and something else like pre-med. (I don’t really know, I don’t keep up with the guy.) In high school, he basically did everything better than me except for the mallet instruments, which had been my forte. I had a suspicion I was better at timpani, but I never got the chance to really evaluate that suspicion. Well, like I said, he didn’t come to our school and I ended up being the only percussion major of that generation. I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about the competition. Full disclosure, much of my freshman year I thanked God that we weren’t at the same school for comparison. Much of my underclassman years I was convinced that they would have asked me to leave the program if they hadn’t needed a primary percussionist in their ensembles or even just for department demographics. I would’ve never experienced the grace I did if Chad was around.

So we went on tour to this feeder school–Chad’s alma mater. I didn’t expect to see him at all since he was supposed to be at our sister school across the country. I was annoyed that we couldn’t take our own timpani because of space (and really, you shouldn’t be traveling all over Texas with timpani anyway) but was assured their timpani there would be in good order. I was not surprised but was highly disappointed to find that the provided timpani had not been used, tuned, or maintained since Chad graduated a year and a half before. The music teacher had also lost the drum key and so the timpani were in terrible shape, terrible tune, and, by extension, played terrible. During our performance rehearsal (not the clinic with the feeder kids) the director, my Advisor, got upset and lectured me in front of the entire group (but what else was new) and all I had for him were excuses. His solution was to treat the timpani– pitched instruments–like the bass drum. He didn’t seem to understand that his solution was only making my performance even more terrible, no matter how hard I tried to overcompensate for the disaster the instruments were in (and I did try, I just decided to spare you all the technical solutions and their jargon).

When it came time to do our clinic with the high schoolers, Chad walked in. (Like I said, I don’t keep up with the guy so I’m not sure why he was home instead of at college) and greeted the director like they were old buddies. I didn’t think much of it other than “oh, great, it’s Chad”. But then, not ten minutes later, in the middle of a clinic, did he stop the entire group from the middle of a song, criticize my playing, and then said, “Let Chad do it”.

The ensemble continued without me for the rest of the clinic. There was nothing for me to do. My other percussionists had their jobs, and the high school mallet percussionist was already quite proficient and is actually to this day an amazing musician in all aspects, so there wasn’t much for me to do except sit around and feel sorry for myself. I asked my friends, some of whom were older members of the group, if my playing was really that bad? Was I really that off? Unfortunately, the only answers I got were all along the lines of, “I just can’t tell from where I sit.”

That day I realized that my advisor had also been expecting to have two incoming music majors in 2011, and that he was disappointed when the one that actually showed up was me instead of Chad. I watched Chad play the timps with the same limitations I had moments before, and Advisor praised his playing instead of criticizing it, even though I saw little if any difference in the final product. The realization was then solidified in my brain that I was a disappointment from the beginning, and I could never be “Chad” to my director–or even the other professors. It was a crushing revelation.

I guess I should acknowledge that the superiority Chad comes by innocently doesn’t make him a bad person. Or I could just tell you that I rolled my eyes when I did some Facebook stalking to discover that he’s a doctor now.

My dad unexpectedly passed away between the semesters my sophomore year, and my grandfather six weeks after that. I never wanted their deaths to give me any sort of allowances or short cuts. I went back to school immediately. I missed a few days for the memorials and funerals, and all the stress boiled up until my immune system crashed and I vomited all over our loading dock floor right before a concert (true story, also disgusting) and also got a bad case of bronchitis that lasted the entire last quarter of the semester. However, I powered through it all and my life continued as usual. My Advisor was sympathetic much of the time, especially in classes outside of the ensemble. I still got in trouble in wind symphony, and several times I was not at fault. (For example, my bass drum player forgot her mallets for a performance, leading me to be lectured in front of the entire group while she wasn’t even scolded for tardiness. His reasoning was that I was principal percussionist and the equipment was my responsibility, even thought by his own standards it wasn’t true). And I have to say this: while being tough on a musician can make them strive for perfection (and I did, if for no other reason than to get my Advisor off my back) it honestly came to a point where I never knew if I was the problem or just a habit he had created.

A redemption of my sophomore year was Dr. E. He was brought into the department to build a string orchestra program and teach our upper division music classes. I hardly ever saw him outside of department meetings that first year. He asked me to do a few orchestra concerts and gave me a few instructions for orchestral playing and context and things like that–things that percussion majors (especially timpanists) at any major university would have learned in their first year. But not me. By my fourth semester of college, I was barely treading water without any instruction and no idea what the real world of percussion was like, and I’m ashamed to say I didn’t even have the motivation to find out on my own. The professors were letting me just do my own thing, and my advisor (while supposedly reaching out to people to find me a “real” teacher) seemed to have higher priorities. Even though Dr. E didn’t give me private lessons, I quickly realized that he was giving me opportunities to grow as a musician any little way he could.

My junior year I played with the orchestra a day or two a week instead of for an occasional performance, and Dr. E was also the professor for two of my upper division classes. Now, it’s not like he ever got upset with me or my classmates. In fact, we upset him a lot that fall semester of 2013. But when he got upset, I always understood why. When he criticized me in orchestra, I never doubted that I was wrong and I knew exactly how to fix it. In fact, he fixed many of the problems I had in Wind Symphony by changing the way he explained something, but–even more importantly–by admitting that the director isn’t always right.

Don’t get me wrong, the director is always right. That is the number #1 rule of ensembles. Rule #2 is that if the director happens to be wrong, see Rule #1. However, one of the biggest criticisms I got in wind symphony would be my timing and dragging or rushing rhythms. The director (my Advisor) always said the same thing, “You’re not watching!” I was many times convinced his conducting was off. I would stare the heck out of his baton and try to synchronize my movements to his, but if there was so much as a twitch (from me or him) he would stop everything and call me out. I could never say anything (although I did and then lived to regret it) because, you know, Rule #1. My stomach was already in knots the first time it happened with Dr. E. But instead of accusing me of not watching, he instead told me, “Hear the tempo, keep the tempo. You’re the conductor now. I’m working on cuing sections and marking the measure, the orchestra is following you.” That’s all he said. I had been missing an important component of ensemble playing with my hyper-focus on following the conductor, but those words cured me instantly. I never lagged or rushed again in his orchestra or in wind symphony ever again. He didn’t expect me to watch his every movement because he expected me to hold my own as the backbone of the orchestra, as opposed to the other director that expected me to stare at his hand until my eyes fell out. Dr. E’s instruction really taught me my place as a timpanist in any given ensemble and gave me a confidence that I didn’t have my first two years as a music major.

Partially because of Dr. E and his (what I thought were) revolutionary instructions, I began to climb back up a ladder of respect my junior year. The trumpet section (which contained no majors or minors and had been left without leadership after their principle dropped out) got the brunt of the criticisms that year. The few times I was openly criticized and it wasn’t my fault (and again, it’s not like there weren’t times that it was and I knew it) I had the gumption to stand up for myself. I had some allies in the group that would speak up for me as well. One of my percussionists was a violin major, and he was known for having near-perfect pitch and exceptional sight reading skills within the department. On one occasion, the director disagreed with my reading of a specific rhythm several times. My reading of the rhythm never changed, and I had to show it to the violin major and get his shared opinion before the director would take me seriously. After instances like this happened a few times, I noticed that my criticisms became few and far between.

My relationship with Advisor improved further when he was no longer my private lesson instructor. I was now learning from a local high school teacher who had majored in percussion in his undergrad. He wasn’t the “professional” that my advisor had promised, but in my first couple of months with Mr. W, I already learned more than I had from two years with Advisor. He introduced me to the world of solo percussion repertoire. He was chill and understanding of my issues, and even found time to research any questions I asked him (which, after teaching music myself, I’m extra appreciative of the time he took to help me progress to the level I needed to be). He knew I wasn’t at par, but he also seemed to recognize that I wasn’t completely at fault, and he did his best to catch me up. I finally felt like I was getting the instruction I really needed, the instruction that every other major in the department had from their freshman year. I practiced with excitement knowing that I wouldn’t be a joke anymore.

But that’s when a whole new chapter of failures began.

Here’s an instance: my junior year we had a scheduled recital in October, as we did every month. Because of the deaths in my family, as well as the complete lack of repertoire from my advisor, I had missed out on almost all recitals my fourth semester. It had become somewhat of a running joke that I was the only major allowed to miss them. Now that I was in my fifth semester and practicing as an upper classman with new vigor, finally learning my craft, I had waited until I thought my song was ready before showing up for pre-recital. My teacher was supportive of me but couldn’t come to the screening performance. It went well, from what I remember. I didn’t get any criticisms or a private talk after. I had positive feedback. I felt ready to perform. The recital was going to be instrumentalists only since it would be while the choir was on tour. I didn’t see a reason for them to keep me out of it.

The day before the recital, the department had an outing to the opera. We were scheduled to leave right after wind symphony. The majority of our majors were in the ensemble, and since choir wouldn’t leave until the next day, the vocalists that overlapped were still around. During beginning announcements, the director (still my Advisor) promoted the recital. He started naming off the participants present–a couple of pianists, a saxophone major, a flutist, etc. Two of my best friends sat in the front row and constantly said my name to remind him, and eventually all the participants were like “What about Ann?” and then, he said, “Oh, Ann won’t be performing tomorrow, she’ll be doing it next month.” Understandably, I cried, “What?” and, in front of the entire ensemble, I was told that I had not made the cut. The rest of the class I could barely concentrate, I was so livid. I had worked so hard, and it clearly meant nothing. I ranted to my friends all the way to Dallas and back. I was in such a sour mood that I even snapped at the department chair when he asked me to switch vans. Looking back, I’m sure he realized why I was really upset, because he didn’t push it. (By the way, I’m sorry about that, if you’re reading this.)

Advisor was embarrassed about it and apologized for the awkward way I found out later, blaming Dr. E for not talking to me (which isn’t Dr. E’s job, it’s my Advisor’s) but I never found out why they took me out, or who had the final say. It won’t surprise you to know that the November recital also didn’t include me, since it was vocal only. I played in one recital my junior year, and it was many months later. I did have a solo performance with orchestra accompaniment late in the year, the closest I came to a featured performance (again, Dr. E doing his best to give me a rounded education).

Now that I was nearing the end of my college career, I focused more on my methods classes (music education, essentially) and building my ensemble leadership. My junior and senior year I had a solid group of percussionists, and we even had featured pieces in our annual festival, traditionally our biggest audience. A few years in a row, I had a large part in the leadership of the percussion ensemble pieces, although it often went unrecognized. I still considered our group performances a personal accomplishment, and I had a good relationship with the people I worked with.

My emphasis on group and ensemble work combined with my lack of solo performance to contribute to a condition known as performance anxiety: in the vernacular, stage fright. I had always been nervous for auditions or featured moments (and as the university’s only timpanist, I had plenty of those). But when it came to solo performances, I realized that I was incapable of performing on the same level that I practiced. I continued to fail pre-recital performances and was only in one recital my senior year– my own senior recital.

To this day, I consider my senior recital to be my biggest personal failure. It wasn’t as dramatic a failure as that screw-up two weeks into college four years before. Most of the audience wasn’t informed enough to understand the level of mistakes I made. Even worse: the most difficult piece of my recital was only junior-level repertoire. My audience didn’t know it, but I was drowning in shame over every mistake because it should have been easy. And the truth is that only a few days before my recital, I could play every piece perfectly. My accompanists can even tell you so. But I knew before I ever got out on stage that it was all going to go to hell. And it did. I blanked on a piece I practiced for two years and had performed memorized twice before. I missed a vital note at the end of a marimba cadence. I had a pivotal timpani cadenza that I switched the sticking, and the climatic visual was lost. The two ensemble pieces at the end, which I had prepared and directed myself, were the only pieces that went well at all. The next day I parked on the far side of my dormitory parking lot and cried for an hour. All of that hard work and four years of waiting for an opportunity to prove myself had meant nothing.

And so, in spite of all the progress I thought I’d made, my colligate career ended with a failure that haunts me to this day. My professors were nice to me about it. The project even got an A. But on the inside, I felt it was because they knew it didn’t really matter. I was going to be a teacher, and not a professional musician. In a way, the recital felt like a poetic end to the struggle I had in my education.

To be clear, I have a lot of great memories from college. In fact, for a long time I considered those years to be the happiest of my life. Music wasn’t only a part of my life back then: it was my life. I spent two hours in tears after my graduation because I thought I’d never play timpani again (although I did for several years after, I have not since spring of 2019). I spent the next five years looking back fondly on the memories I shared with my friends, both in and out of the music department.

I was really convinced that it would all come together when I stepped foot into the real world, but alas, as you will read in Part Two, consequences did not improve from there.

The Post-Christmas Blues

I’m sure everyone gets this same feeling. At least, anyone that celebrates Christmas. But it’s the same after any celebratory event, isn’t it? We spend days or weeks or months getting all hyped up. We over plan, we over shop, we over party, and we over eat! And then…it’s over. This year I hardly felt the hype at all. Sure, I went to COVID-regulation safe parties. I did the shopping. I ate until I was sick. I listened to the music. I watched a few movies. Yet, I still feel like Christmas was…lacking. It’s as if it didn’t come at all this year.

I guess I could blame the year 2020. We normally kick off the holiday season with a Thanksgiving Feast with our neighbors, followed by games and then a Black Friday shopping spree and a late movie showing. We still had dinner with our friends (who have basically been our quarantine bubble buddies). However, the rest of the festivities were set aside. Our Thanksgiving Day, which normally ends at midnight or 1 in the morning, ended around 7. This was the beginning of a lack of holiday traditions. There was no church Christmas party. There was no school holiday program. Community programs that have gone on for decades were “postponed until 2021”.

However, my family has never been one for “traditions”. Aside from Thanksgiving, which has been an on-going thing for about ten years, the other things I mentioned above only get attended once in a while. So, after I ruled the cancellations out as the source of my lack of Christmas cheer, I turned to what else might be lacking in my life.

If you’ve read my blog before, you might know that I used to be a teacher: K-12 Music and High School Social Studies. While I’ve walked away from teaching full time, I have many fond memories of my teaching experience that revolve around Christmastime. This year, I didn’t start rehearsing Christmas music in September. I didn’t have students help me decorate an office or even a hallway. I didn’t have students shower me in an overabundance of teacher mugs, chocolate, and Starbucks gift cards. Even last year, when I was substitute teaching, I participated in ugly sweater contests and wished kids “Merry Christmas!” and “Happy Holidays!” as they dashed out of their first semester finals. I even put volunteer work into the school program where my mom was the principal. However, this semester I didn’t sub and my mom retired this summer. We didn’t have any of those school-related festivities.

A few years back we tried to start a tradition of opening presents with the entire family whenever we could be together, although it usually isn’t on Christmas Day. Normally it’s a little later. This year, however, my younger brother and his wife went to visit her family for two weeks, so we had it the earliest we ever have, on the 19th. It was actually a nice time. We watched the new Netflix movie Klaus (highly recommended, by the way) and opened our presents, had a big family brunch, and played a couple of games. But then, Christmas was…over. Was my pre-Christmas celebration really just a backfire that seemed to cancel Christmas out all together? I didn’t think so…we did have a nice time. However, aside from the presents, it didn’t feel much different than any other time they come to visit.

So, I began to look deeper–or actually, shallower. Was it my presents? In my adult years, I’ve become quite a gift-giver. I start the Christmas wish lists every year so I can plan all my gift-giving ahead. My mom and I did stocking stuffer shopping together, and then I did a run on my own. In addition to buying from the list or collective stocking stuffer shopping, I hand-make something for everyone. This year, I made personalized, flannel blankets. I don’t expect everyone to hand-make stuff in return or anything. I know it’s cheesy to say, but I really do get more out of giving than I do out of receiving. But this year, I’m ashamed to say, I felt ungrateful for what I received. I didn’t ask for much, and I got most items on my wish list. It’s the things I didn’t ask for that threw me off, since a few of the items were a bit unpractical and are proving to be more of an obstacle than a thoughtful token. Besides, there’s just something about pouring out your stocking and seeing that everything in it was purchased by you…

However, this is also not unusual (although the stocking stuffer thing was a first for me, I understand that’s what normal “mom” life is like). Actually, this year’s gift-giving experience was probably even better than last year and the year before. On a superficial level, I did get everything on my list that wasn’t a gift card. And I think everyone was happier with the blankets than they were with my handmade gifts in the past. So, if the presents weren’t the issue, then what was it?

My older brother made the comment that we have holiday movies that we didn’t watch this year. Growing up, we couldn’t get through a season without A Christmas Story, The Muppet Christmas Carol, or a Santa Clause marathon. This year, we didn’t see any one of those movies. I do enjoy the Muppets, and I don’t mind the Tim Allen films. I do think I’ve seen enough of “You’ll shoot your eye out!” to sustain me for many, many lifetimes. However, especially since I don’t live alone anymore, it’s difficult for me to sit through an entire movie that I’ve already seen. My mother has a terrible memory, so she can watch the same movie every two or three months and still think she hasn’t seen it before. I think my older brother watches movies with the specific intention of memorizing every single line. I just get bored with most movies. Even movies I really like I’ll just turn on in the background while I clean or paint or do something else to really occupy my mind. This year we played Christmas with the Kranks as we decorated the tree, and that’s about my limit for “sitting” to watch a movie. My favorite way to just “watch a movie” is with friends that don’t mind if we chat about what’s happening. My family, especially my brother, cannot stand when people chat through movies. He even gets upset if somebody is on their phone while the television is on. So, he and my mom will often watch movies without me. This year they watched Elf and It’s a Wonderful Life, but even they didn’t sit to watch the family classics.

Even though we didn’t see them, the movie theory doesn’t pan out. Movies have never been the defining “Christmas Spirit” for me. What is defining, however, is Christmas music. This year, I couldn’t bring myself to listen to Christmas music more than three or four days total. Maybe on a quick trip to the grocery would I have some playing in the background. But other than that…I just wasn’t feeling it. I have always loved Christmas music–not so much “Frosty the Snowman” or “Winter Wonderland”–but the sacred pieces have that double meaning that forever gives Christians hope. That double meaning of course, is that Christ came once and will come again. It’s always seemed to be so much more meaningful at Christmastime. Except, this year, I just didn’t want to listen to it.

In fact, this brings me to my final supposition. This is the very first Christmas that I had no plans for the next year. It’s always been “next year, I’ll have a job” or “next year, I’ll have my own place” or “next year, I’ll be hired full time”. “Next year” this and “next year” that. Not this year. I have no expectation that things in 2021 will be any different than they’ve been in 2020. I spent the majority of the year unemployed and don’t even have a real direction on what kind of career I really want. I had to get rid of half my stuff to move back into a house I hoped I would never live in again. I feel like the only things I’ve looked forward to have been cancelled or postponed because of the pandemic. When people say, “next year”, I really have no idea what that will hold for me. I don’t have a “thrill of hope” as the song says. I really expect to be living in this same house, in this same room, with a perpetual state of temporary work until “something better” comes along.

I think the real lack of Christmas cheer for me is not joy or peace, because I really have everything I need and I think I have a good life. I know that’s more than some people can say. However, I do think I have little to no hope of my life improving in the next year. It would be nice to say, “next year, I’ll have a job and my own place” but the truth of 2020 is that those things are not guaranteed, no matter how many steps I take in the right direction.

I didn’t write this post to discourage myself (**I type as I wipe tears away**) but I know that it’s 2020. Perhaps you’ve been feeling a general lack of hope. Maybe you even feel a little guilty because you know other people have lost so much more than you have. But it’s okay to feel a little sad sometimes. The important thing is to pick yourself up and keep going. Maybe my circumstances during Christmas 2021 will be the same, but there’s no way that I will be the same. That’s part of “keep on keeping on”, is that you don’t stay in the same “place”, even if you don’t know where you’re going.

Let’s keep keeping on together.

PS: Listen to “Christmas Lights” by Straight No Chaser. You’ll get the whole vibe.

On The Topic of Self Worth…

A few months ago, after watching a video from You Tuber Moriah Elizabeth, I was inspired to buy a blank set of Russian Nesting Doll shells from Amazon for my personal creativity. They arrived just before our move. Since I hadn’t quite decided on what to do with them, I set them aside until I had a couple of weeks to unpack, set-up, and take some time to think. When I was finally ready to take some time to sit and paint, I set out to create something new.

First, I covered the shells in white paint as a primer. Then, I sketched the design with pencil. After that, I painted the background colors. At some point I went to Michael’s and bought a set of acrylic paint pens for the details, and then finished the characters with a bold, black outline. I finished it off with a clear coat and set them aside to dry. All of that took several days–almost a week. I was eager to show off the set to my friends and family once it was all dry. If I do say so myself, they turned out pretty great!

Side note: The remake Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite movies and I will never say no to watching it!

I had so much fun with it, that I had to order another set. The problem was, I had no idea what to do with it! I set up a suggestion box on my Instagram story and got several great responses. One theme was mentioned twice and I decided to give the people what they wanted! I tried to be a bit more money savvy (since I’m still unemployed–thanks, ‘Rona) and ended up with a set of shells that was smaller and a slightly different shape than I was expecting. This presented a new challenge since my plans had been outlined on the original shell size, but I eventually ended up going with more of a portrait feel and less dimensional.

This set, while smaller, took twice as long to make. The detailed shading played a big part. Because of the detail and teeny size, the lantern proved to be extremely difficult to get right. Both it and Pascal received more than one scrape-sand-and-start-over treatment. They eventually turned out to be the beauties that you see here, but it did take some work. Rapunzel’s mouth also had to be redone several times. Eventually, for these teeny little shells, I ended up purchasing a set of detail stylus tools, which I highly recommend for tiny details. I was (more than) a little sick of these dolls by the time I was done, but the longer they hang out on my bookshelf, the more I like to look at them.

I then ordered another set, again under the impression that I’d found a cheaper version of the original shells. I had two themes I really wanted to do but was torn on which to do first, so I put up a poll (again on Instagram). At first, one had a clear lead and I was positive it would be the winner. I was shocked when, 24 hours later, the results came in and the second choice had won by…like…a lot. However, when the shells came, I was disappointed to find that I had ordered something different–again. As before, the size and shape did not fit with what I’d planned. I finally used my order history to find what I had now tried to re-order several times. The proper order was finally placed. Just because I was annoyed at myself, I bought two sets of shells for my future designs. In the meantime, I put both themes on hold and went with a set that took me a little less than a day to make.

Side note: I might be obsessed with owls.

The bulk of the painting for the owls was done in a single evening, and honestly there are some things I might go back and do over on them. I feel that you can tell that the hours I spent on B&B and Tangled were absent in this piece. It’s far more simple and rushed. “But Annie, they’re so cute!” I know, I know…but they’re still my least favorite set to date.

Allow me to jump back in time a bit, back when I was waiting on my second set of shells to arrive. I had a friend going through a rough time and I decided to go to Michael’s (who don’t sponsor me but they could!) to see if there was anything I could create to cheer her up. When I saw the peg dolls, I knew instantly what I had to do.

Side note: BB-8 fell apart twice before I was finally able to paint him and send him on his cross-country journey, so I was extra glad when he made it safely!

After I finished the owls, (and with the encouragement from some key friends of mine, you know who you are! ) I launched my Etsy shop and artist Instagram. When my friend received her surprise in the mail, I added the peg dolls to my shop. They’re fairly inexpensive to make and don’t take anywhere as near as long as the nesting dolls. My younger brother reached out to me via my new Instagram and ordered my first commission work! My shells (finally the right ones!) arrived in the mail around that time, but I put them aside to focus on the set my brother had ordered (which had an unfortunate run-in with the pavement during the sealing process so had to be done twice). That weekend we went to visit him and his wife, and I presented to them this final product!

Side note: My younger (adopted) brother is one of very very few Asians serving as firefighters.

Now we finally get to my latest set of Russian nesting dolls. The theme that won the vote was Aladdin, and I had already planned out what all of the shells would be. I spent two days on Genie alone, trying to get him as Will Smith–looking as I possibly could. Jasmine’s paint job also received a full day of attention. I became especially proud of the detailing I did on the carpet.

Aladdin, however, was a problem from the start. Ideally, you want to make sure your titular character is the best, right? This guy went through soooo many phases. Again, the mouth just wasn’t working with me. (I might have to take a how-to-paint-a-mouth class.) The lamp and his hands turned out to be a giant headache, and I just felt that he looked…well, terrible. I even sent pictures to my friends to ask what they thought was missing or needed changed. I received feedback and tweaked some things. I was eventually satisfied with the final product.

Unpopular opinion alert: I like the new Aladdin better. I said what I said.

I spent almost two weeks working on the Aladdin set. While the finished product was definitely better than the first attempt or two, I began to feel a little burned out. Discouraged, even. Was I even making art that people would buy? When I began painting the dolls, it was a distraction from the world going on outside. It was to keep busy in my season of unemployment during a summer of quarantine and social distancing. At this point, I was hoping some of my art would sell so that I could sustain enough earnings to continue buying the materials to buy more. I listed everything on Etsy and Facebook Marketplace, but had no luck.

I passively decided to post some of my things on eBay. I have a love/hate relationship with that particular service because, for some reason, I have to update my address over and over and over again with them. Imagine my surprise when I sold something in less than an hour! Guess I’ll be posting some more things to eBay, although they did print my old address on the mailing label…(just an example of why they aren’t my favorite. It might speak more about my technological savvy than it does about their system.)

Okay, so why did I tell you this long, drawn-out story? Well, when I was working on the Aladdin set, I was thinking a lot about how much work I put into my art. Would anyone find an ounce of worth in it besides just “something nice to look at”? Would anyone really look at them and realize how much time and effort I spent on mixing the right colors? Would anyone see the extra effort I put into meeting the demands of the uniqueness of each character?

If someone was asking me these same questions about a piece of work that they had spent hours on, I would have responded with, “It doesn’t matter what other people see. You will always see that work and know exactly how much it’s worth. You spent the time. You put in the effort.”

And after all, isn’t that how God sees us? He has put so much effort into each little detail of our personality. He has spent every moment of our lives working us, molding us, and crafting us to be the best possible version of ourselves. It’s even worse for Him because so much more time is spent with us fighting against His steady hand. Maybe we aren’t perfect now, but we can be with His never-ending investment into our individual stories.

I believe this is true for everyone else. I can apply this truth to any other person, artist, or even writer. I could spend all day telling another girl how precious she is in God’s sight, and even point out the little details that He’s worked on so patiently in her life that has changed her for the better.

Why is it so difficult for me to believe this truth for myself? I’m no exception from the next girl, the next artist, the next writer, the next Christian, or any other label I claim. Why can I extend an invitation of self love and acceptance to complete strangers, but when it comes to myself, I make every excuse in the book?

Chances are that you have felt the same at some point in your life. Sometimes I feel that I’ve found the answers. Sometimes I feel that I’ve found the solutions. Yet, after many hills and valleys, I still find that I value myself less than I should. Not all the time, of course. Sometimes I’m so vain that I think the song is about me. I know for a fact that I’m not alone…which is why I have chosen to share this with you at all.

Therefore, I have finally arrived at the purpose for this post. Every hour that I spend on my art– from the planning to the drying– is a reflection on how God never stops working on me. When I look at my finished products (which I do not considered ‘finished’ until I am satisfied) I know that they don’t look at all ‘official’ or have the clean lines that a computer graphic could have given them. Still, they are a symbol of my hard work and desire to progress.

I invite you to see my art (or, perhaps, your own!) the same way, as a reflection of the work that God displays in your life every day.

Now for shameless plugs!

If you’d like to see more of my art or vote in future polls, follow me on Instagram @artisann_creations! You can also dm me for custom nesting doll or peg doll projects 🙂

If you’d like to see what I currently have available, visit my Etsy shop!

5 Tips for Buying and Selling on Facebook Marketplace

The past few months have been kind of crazy. First, I lost my job (because, ya know, the RONA). I found ways to occupy my time and thought that I’d be back to work for the last month of school. Well, that proved to be premature thinking. You know the rest. Second, my mom made the decision to retire a year earlier than originally planned. This led to the third thing: the decision for the two of us to move back to Houston. My brother and his wife already live in the house in the Houston area, so until I can get a job and a place of my own, there will be four adults living in a three bedroom house with three full sets of personal items.

So, we knew we had to make some decisions. There’s no reason for us to have three entire households of things in one house. Therefore, my brother and I both went on a selling spree to downsize our belongings to fit into the house comfortably.

Before I get into my secrets, you might be wondering, why Facebook Marketplace? It’s my personal favorite way to sell things, and here’s why. First, there’s no shipping involved if you’re just doing local meet-ups. I don’t know about you, but shipping is super annoying to me. Second, the messages go straight to your phone if messenger is already downloaded. Third, you aren’t using your direct phone number for contact or information. Fourth, it’s free. C’mon. Not everything is anymore.

Without further adieu, here are my 5 Tips for Buying and Selling on Facebook Marketplace.

Tip #1: The Posting is Everything. Honestly, I could do a whole post just on how your posting should look. Make sure you take good pictures of all important angles of the item (for instance, wall decor might only need one, but a table needs at least two or three). Make sure you’re as honest as possible in the post so that the buyer knows exactly what they’re getting. Nobody wants to show up to a meet and leave disappointed. That being said, highlight the positives. If there’a desk that’s scratched up but holds weight and has smooth drawers, then somebody will probably still want it. Most people buying used items aren’t expecting them to be perfect, just a good bargain. If you’re selling something like an electronic, make sure that you mark that the item is sold “as is” and that there are no returns in the description. This will help protect you from unfair accusations and hassles.

Tip #2: Measure before you post. I could have included this in the previous paragraph, but it’s honestly the biggest thing I’ve learned (the hard way) from selling on FBM. It takes a few extra minutes and might seem like a hassle at first, but trust me. You don’t want to answer fifteen inquiries a day that just have to do with dimensions. The dimensions help weed out who really wants your piece from those that don’t. People might still ask (because not everyone reads the entire description before they click on that “inquire” icon) but you can then send them to the description. Measure anything where size is an important factor: furniture, art pieces, and decor.

Tip #3: Post the highest price you would personally pay. Some people that are more money or business savvy might argue with me and say to post high and give people room to negotiate in a range that you’ll still get your money, but this is what I’m telling you has worked for me. You want to be fair to your buyers, after all. Treat them the way you would want to be treated. Buyers and sellers both get ratings on Facebook just like an Uber driver, and sellers with higher ratings are more likely to sell quickly. If negotiations come up (about 1/3 of my dealings have been negotiations) then use the same rule and don’t go lower than a price you would personally pay. If your goal is to get rid of stuff, you could even post it for free. However, I would advise against trying to sell anything for less than $5. If it’s worth that little, it can be donated (with some exceptions I’ll get to at the conclusion). Lastly, make sure to specify “cash only” or a currency application so that you get paid immediately. Do not accept checks or credit card numbers.

Tip #4: Moderating Messages: don’t feel like you have to do anything to make a sale. While I do love that the messages go to your phone, sometimes it can either become stressful or annoying. There are three main problems I have with messages themselves. (1) Too many too quick. Sometimes I post an item and within an hour I have five people asking about it. I try to follow the “first come first serve” rule. By the way, make sure to reply ASAP so that your potential buyer doesn’t lose interest. If you have multiple people asking all at once, reply to the first person and tell the others that there has been interest but you will keep them updated. If the first person hasn’t replied after an hour or so, I’ll move onto the next in line. Mark the item as “Pending” as soon as someone agrees to meet. This will cut down on phone “blow-ups”. (2) An item that has been posted for a while and, for whatever reason, hasn’t sold. You have a person that inquires. You respond, and they don’t. I usually wait a day and ask if they’re still interested. Sometimes they say yes and then don’t respond again for hours, only to pop up and say they’re ready to meet right now. If I can swing it, I bend to their wishes to make a sale, but I don’t go out of my way. If they aren’t on top of your messages, they don’t want your item that badly. (3) Someone constantly reschedules a meeting. This happened to me early on in my Marketplace journey. I had listed a couch as free (because I was moving–again). The same woman said she wanted it, made a meeting, confirmed the meeting, said she was “on her way”, never showed up, and texted two hours later with an apology and a reschedule–3 times. This went on for weeks, until my moving day came and I just had to throw the couch away because it wasn’t in good enough condition to donate. Nowadays, I don’t hold anything for longer than 24 hours, and I move onto the next person after my buyer hasn’t shown up for 30 minutes without an explanation.

Tip #5: Stay smart and safe. Sure, I still have some faith in humanity. But that doesn’t mean people don’t take advantage of it. When you schedule a meet-up, do so in a public, open area. I’ve been using the parking-lot of my local neighborhood Walmart for anything that will fit in my car. I only give people my address if furniture needs to be picked up, and even then we try to move it outside so they can’t case our house. Once I agreed to deliver furniture because the buyer offered extra cash, but I did not go inside their house either. In any case, meet-up, pick-up, or delivery, it is very important that you are not alone when it happens, especially if you’re a little lady such as myself. If you absolutely have to go alone, make sure it’s that meet-up at the public, open place. Text someone where you are and what you’re doing and check back in with them after the sale is made. I take my mom along as often as I can. Sometimes people are late, but unless I hear from a late buyer, I don’t wait longer than 30 minutes. Sometimes people want to bargain with you after you’ve met. Tell them it’s what you agreed on or no deal. If people show up without money, tell them to reschedule and leave with your item. Do not follow them anywhere to get money. While there are some scoundrels, usually people will swap you the cash for the item, say thank you with a smile, and leave. Don’t forget to mark the item “sold” so that nobody else inquires about it, and then give your buyer an adequate rating.

There are some exceptions to every rule. For instance, remember when I said not to sell something less than $5? The biggest thing we give away for free is furniture that we don’t want to leave on the curb. For instance, we had an antique organ that my late father was in the middle of refurbishing when he passed away. After eight years, we were ready to part with it, but we didn’t know how to get rid of it in a way that was suitable for such an instrument. It took two rounds of Marketplace postings but someone finally came for it with the intention of re-purposing it into a desk. Also, I had a dollhouse made from an antique kit that my father made me when I was a little girl. It was in decent shape but I don’t have anywhere to display it these days, so I had my brother list it under collectibles for a low price. A dollhouse enthusiast picked it up later that day. Both of these instances were helpful when I knew donating or trashing the items wasn’t an option.

Those are my 5 Tips (more like essay points, huh?) for buying/selling on Facebook Marketplace. I hope my secrets were helpful. Feel free to leave questions or comments down below, and I’ll be happy to answer them to the best of my ability!

P.S.: Don’t forget to wear a mask!

It’s Time For A Change

I’ve tried to start three other blog posts, but this one has to come first before I continue my stream of thought.

So, if you haven’t noticed, there’s a massive movement going on outside. I don’t want to ramble for too long. Frankly, I don’t see this blog post changing minds or influencing people. I already have a small readership, and I generally write for my own therapeutic reasons and not to take a firm stance on social issues. I’m a firm believer in two sides to every story. I want to be adequately educated on the subject before I jump right in with my opinion, and even then, there are always valid arguments on each side. I aim to be a peacekeeper and unbiased educator in both my personal life and online. All of this is the preface for the narrative you’re about to dive into.

George Floyd was killed about a month ago. At first I thought to myself, “What a shame, another Black guy killed needlessly by a cop.” Similar stories have popped up every now and then for the last ten years. It’s terrible, but how can we fix it? Police are police, after all. Many were quick to dig up the dirty pasts of the victims to justify the killings. I can’t say for sure what was so different about the death of George Floyd. I have a theory that the widespread lock downs triggered a lot of anxiety in the entire population–an anxiety of which the police are not immune. There were several other unwarranted deaths of Black men and women during the lock down periods–including Breonna Taylor, an EMT that was shot in her bed after working a shift.

Honestly, the event was out of my mind in a matter of hours. It wasn’t until I saw the news of the looting of the Target that I got more involved. One of my Black friends posted on Facebook “How is looting going to help anything?” And I commented, “It’s so frustrating! Two wrongs don’t make a right!”

Well. As you can imagine, people (that don’t personally know me) CAME. FOR. ME. I was strong in my belief that the riots were wrong and unfair to everyone, including members of the Black community. The ladies that responded in the comments accused me of overlooking the murder while I condemned the violence. I tried to argue that I wasn’t ignoring the murder, but rioting wasn’t an acceptable form of protest. I finally just deleted my original comment and wrote to the author of the post in a private message. I apologized for offending her friends and hoped she understood that I just didn’t understand why people thought violence was going to solve more violence. She replied some time later that she never even saw the comment or the responses but she knew my heart was in the right place. Meanwhile, I had written to two of my closest friends to vent about how these women had called me racist when they didn’t even know me. However, each of my friends (one white, one Black) argued with me until, at the very least, I could see how what I had said was offensive.

I decided the only thing I could do was apologize to the first girl that came after me. I wrote her a private message that she might have never seen (she never responded, at least) and then she and the other lady tagged me in more comments to say I was “dirty deleting” and was refusing to be educated. So that didn’t feel great. I guess that’s what I get for breaking my own rule and failing to educate myself before engaging in a discussion. After learning more about that the Targets of Minneapolis, I actually count it separate from what I’ll refer to later as “senseless rioting”.

Well, those conversations I had with my friends changed the way I viewed the entire thing. I wrote a post on Facebook to admit that I was wrong about my methods and beliefs and that, looking forward, I was going to do my best to strive for a change in the world. I shared a post from a friend who voiced her feelings as a white ally more eloquently than I knew I could. I became active on social media to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. I started to have difficult conversations with my friend and with my mom (who is not quite as enthusiastic for the movement so those were especially tough) and I have tried to educate myself on multiple matters pertaining to recent events. Below, I have listed my findings.

Protests vs. Riots: After having more personal conversations with others that attended protests and saw first-hand what the movement was actually like, I realized that real “rioting” (very different from “protesting”) was getting an insanely disproportionate amount of attention from the media than it actually deserves. I heard personal accounts from 4 different protests in 4 different major cities (Houston, Kansas City, Denver, and L.A.). The general description of the protests is largely the same. Thousands of people unite with signs, chants, and actions. They either march, sit, lay down, etc. with a speaker or two to help educate those that have arrived. (In Houston, for instance, the march was specifically to educate on what to do and where to go if you feel that you’ve been a victim of racial prejudice.) There were small “sects” (to borrow a word from my Houston friend) that would break off and try to start riots or raids on businesses along the marching path, but the masses of the protest would hold them back or refuse to be associated with it. In Kansas City and L.A., the story was much the same.

Police Involvement at Protests: Again, I am taking this information from first-hand accounts of peaceful protesters. Online (social media or news outlets) I had read that the police were being attacked at the protests and then retaliating. While I do not have any accounts from Minneapolis (as I know it is unique as being the epicenter for this whole situation), in the four cities I do know of, this was not the case. In both Kansas City and Denver, my friends said that there was no angry threat toward the police from the crowds and that they had mostly “uneventful” protests (except that my Houston friend said there was a moment where the police fired teargas into the crowd for seemingly no reason). In L.A., however, the story is quite different, painting a very villainous portrait of the police at those protests. I’ll link a video at the bottom of this blog for you to hear more.

Defunding the Police: After that first weekend of protests when I was talking to two of my friends (KC and Houston), I asked each of them the same question. What are we trying to accomplish with protests? One agreed with my personal statement. Awareness only goes so far and there has to be an end goal to accomplish, even though I had no idea what it would be. The other insisted that awareness would draw attention that would bring about the change we needed. Honestly, neither were wrong. Awareness isn’t nothing. However, I’ve found that many people (and not to discriminate, but especially people of a more advanced age) are already set in their beliefs. They don’t want to be aware, therefore, we cannot force them to be. Really, the movement is just obnoxious noise to them. However, when this phrase first came about, I was definitely confused. Like, are we just not going to have police now? As a history teacher, I know that the idea of police are a relatively modern concept. Society did function before the existence of law enforcement. However, I did some research this time (because really, that first incident didn’t help anything) and I discovered that it’s not about cutting them off. It’s not about abolishing the system. It’s about taking the budgets that we use for the police and take a cold, hard look at how to distribute the money to make our system better for everyone. Again, I’ll link a descriptor at the bottom of this post for you so you can see how that could work. Personally, I feel that at very least the bar of requirements needs to rise. Did you know that police academy is only 600 hours? To compare, a cosmetology licence is 1500. That statistic blew my mind. If you think those two things aren’t alike, you’re not wrong. But let’s compare cops to nurses. One serves and protects, one serves and treats. The requirements for a nurse are AT MINIMUM a two year degree. If you’re going to fuss about pay differences, fine. Compare them to teachers. One protects, and one educates. Oh wait, educators are also expected to be mental health professionals (I have transcripts to prove half of all ed courses are psych courses) and safety professionals (how many active shooter/severe weather/child predator trainings have you gone to?) and also, sometimes, parents. There is not a single teacher in any accredited institution that does not have a four year degree plus completions for all of these areas. Teachers have a full plate and then some.

Supporting the Police: The above being said, policemen also have a very full plate. They’re often expected to be all things to all people. “Defunding” them would be just as beneficial for current policeman, especially the “good cops”, as it would be for the general population–if not more so! Better training, greater resources, and sharing the burden doesn’t mean just “more accountability”, but it also means less pressure and healthier working environments for police officers. Honestly, if you think the system is just fine because there are more good cops than there are bad (a statement that seems to be more an opinion than a statistic) you’re denying a better system for everyone.

Systemic Racism and White Privilege: Systemic racism is another one of those terms that you really need to go do some research on before you do any assuming. There’s really no use denying that it’s real once you understand what it is. I’ll just summarize for you what I mean. Systemic racism is not powerful people within the system pulling strings here and there to make sure the black people remain inferior to the whites all secret-society style. It’s actually more of an unconscious bias that we’ve had for the past few centuries towards black people that has influenced the way they are treated as a whole. There’s a lot to unpack with this one that would take an entire essay in and of itself, but let me just use one example. I’m a white woman that’s been aware of racism and it’s wrongs my entire life. I was raised in a Christian household where we “loved all our neighbors” and even had more minority friends than white ones in high school and college. However, I was told to stay out of the bad, Black neighborhoods. I was told that the black school in my district was hard to work at, but was surprised to learn that there was less “crime” (drugs and weed) than at the other school. The only difference was in demographic and funding. I told my black friends (and students, I’m ashamed to say) that they didn’t “act” black because they were educated and refined. Okay, so that’s a few examples, but all personal to myself. Chances are, if you’re white and you think about your own life, you’ll see that the unconscious bias is definitely real. It’s not a conscious, racist mentality. It’s conditioning that we’ve had for our entire lives–the same conditioning that suppresses their entire culture to know that they are not equal to us. We associate Blacks as dangerous, uneducated, and violent. It wasn’t until recently (even after living in a largely Black city for a year) that I became comfortable with Blacks in public and didn’t feel any sort of paranoia. The first step to eliminating it is to be conscious that it’s there and changing your personal attitude. The fact that nobody looks at me and thinks I’m threatening just because of my race should not be a privilege: it should be a right. However, in this country, most minorities will always be aware that they come with a set of connotations that they do not dictate. This means that instead of a right, it is a privilege.

Statues: Okay, this seems to be less black and white and more gray in comparison to the rest of the movement. Yes, let’s bring down those confederate statues. If we really want to remember those people, we can put them in a Civil War museum or battlefield monument. The confederate flag, if nothing else (which obviously there’s a lot to unpack there that I won’t get into) is inconsiderate and tasteless. Just think about that. If you really want to think “Well, I don’t care about their feelings and it’s about my heritage”, I can see that perspective. It’s my heritage, too. But I’m also partially German and there’s gotta be a Nazi somewhere in that bloodline back there, and you don’t see “good Americans” waving around swastikas as part of their heritage. You don’t even see modern-day Germans doing that. Enough is enough. In the same argument, let’s keep those things in history books and in museums. However (here’s where people might get touchy so please just hear me out) I’ve heard a lot of arguments about somewhat non-related statues getting taken down (for instance, George Washington). We can’t nit-pick into everyone’s past. Did Washington own slaves? Yes, because every white man with land needed slaves. He was a bit demanding on them, but actually freed them in his will. Again, I will link the source. My point is that the confederate statues are honoring people that fought for slavery and economy over lives. George Washington was a leader that believed in equality and fairness, even for his slaves, although slavery is bad. We can nit-pick through every history of every face on every statue, but the truth is that nobody is perfect. We need to decide which causes are worth leaving up and down. However, and this is my response to people that ask, the “should we/shouldn’t we” statue debate is distracting us from progress towards our future. Once everyone starts fighting over statues, we stop talking about shaping new policies and systemic changes that will progress our society to make it a better place for everyone.

Juneteenth: HOW IS THIS NOT A FEDERAL HOLIDAY?? We get Martin Luther King Jr. Day but not Juneteenth??? Like, how can you even argue with this one? Ending slavery was not only a declaration of freedom (granted Blacks would have a long road ahead of them) but also showed the world that America had chosen human lives over their economy. (An act, by the way, not unlike shutting down our economy to save the lives of high-risk citizens to a novel virus). At the very least, let’s celebrate that we care about people more than money, shall we?

Black Lives vs. All Lives: This one seems to be the most polarizing, so I’ve saved it for last. I’ve seen a lot of political stances on each side of the debate. I had a conversation with my mom where I used these arguments. “If you say all lives matter, it means you’re refusing to acknowledge that black lives don’t actually matter the way society stands. It’s like there’s a house on fire but when the fire hoses show up they spread them across all the houses because all the houses matter.” And my mom said, “All the minority houses are on fire. By saying black lives matter, are we refusing to acknowledge the rest of the minorities?” And okay, it wasn’t a bad point. After all, Native Americans arguably had the hardest hit by white Americans, and regardless how you feel about Hispanic immigrants, Hispanic-Americans also face huge bias and problems in society. Asian Americans haven’t had it great historically, either, and the virus only fueled a whole new level of aggression towards them. The world is vastly changing with the whole LGBTQ community and the constant battles that they face on a day-to-day basis, not even including the pay gap that women are still fighting to eliminate. So, in conclusion, white men are the villains. Let’s set their house on fire so we’re all equal!

Just kidding, please don’t do that. That’s not my point or goal at all.

This is my actual point with this one: yes, all minorities have it bad. I don’t know that we can historically pinpoint who has had it the absolute worst. However, how often do we have an opportunity to bring about real change on a large scale? How often do we have the world’s attention where we can make demands and see them through? I’ll say Black Lives Matter, because the movement stands for progress for all minorities. This is our chance where, together, we can fight to end racial bias. It’s time for a radical change. If we succeed with Black lives, we will have opportunities to stand up and fight for the other minorities. Black lives can bring change to all lives.

What about the negatives? So, there are a few things that I don’t want to associate with in regard to the movement. First, there is senseless rioting. I’m not talking about the destruction in Minneapolis anymore. I’m talking about people that have taken full advantage of the situation and gone to steal some things or destroy some property for personal gain in random cities during peaceful protests because they think they won’t get caught, and then defend it by saying it’s “for the cause.” However, as I said before, it is a very small percent of what is actually going on in the protesting. It’s almost not worth focusing on at all. I hate to say this because I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, but don’t be fooled by the media (as I was). Second, there is “retaliation” on cops and their families. I totally get that not every cop is a good cop and not every cop is a bad cop. There’s a mentality that cops can do no wrong and that needs to change. However, going after cops and their families does nothing but fuel the rage. Even if they are bad cops, try to leave their families out of it. Once again, improving the system protects both cops and citizens. If you won’t support the movement because you know a good cop that’s getting beat up over this, know that the message of the movement as a whole is not to beat up cops. All of that being said, there will always be a few people that are over-aggressive in their methods. Don’t base your stance on the behavior (or color) of those people.

Here is my closing statement: change begins with self reflection. Awareness has done so much, but it only goes so far. Educate yourself. Vote in local elections. Look past emotions and personal confrontations and have difficult but productive conversations. Remember that it’s not us vs. them, or black vs. white, or (as not one but two recent discussions suggested) the young people (Millennials and Gen Z) vs. the senior generation (Gen X and Boomers). We have a common goal. All you have to do is admit that there’s progress to be made. As a Christian, I know this world isn’t going to last forever. There will always be wrongdoings by people of all colors, backgrounds, and social classes. However, we have the power to choose to put an end to a part of it here and now. We cannot be complacent when we have an opportunity to improve, and this is our chance. It’s time to stand up and make a change.

Links I promised:

Protests in Los Angeles: The other three cities are accounts that I knew of from personal friends. The people I know personally near L.A. did not attend protests because of COVID-19 (similar reasons I myself did not attend locally). Even though I don’t know these guys, this account is by far the most revealing that I’ve heard about what happened in L.A. The Try Guys are some of my favorite entertainers, even though they aren’t perfect in their dealings and can be a bit crass. However, they are honest and open with their viewership. Listen to their podcast about the L.A. protests here: Disclaimer: they say not to share and to elevate Black voices, but proceeds from watching the video do go towards the cause.

2. George Washington and Slavery: As educators, we often tell students not to rely on Wikipedia. However, these days it’s actually pretty reliable. Most of the sources for this article are from hard cover books and not websites, which already makes it pretty high on the accuracy list.

3. Defunding the Police: Here’s what it means and how it could work.

4. Being unemployed and stuck at home, here’s a link I used to help support the movement. It’s a video created by a girl that combined Black artists and their art/content to raise awareness and money. I turned it on in the background while I got some work done. It’s super easy and convenient.

5 Things You Need for a Trip to Disney

The quarantine is really bringing out the Disney in me. Since acquiring Disney Plus, I’ve gone through all of Star Wars, Marvel, and most of the Disney Princess movies. I fondly reminisced about my last trip to Disney World (click here to read: “A Story of Regrets: My Trip to Disney World“). Well, this weekend I was chatting with one of my friends about saving up for a buddy trip instead of a family vacation. Now that I’m all hyped about a new trip, (sadly, probably in the distant future) I thought I’d share some of my experience with my readers. Here are five essential things you need for your trip to a Disney park!

Sunscreen. I’m probably the palest person most of my friends and family know. I basically glow in the dark. Melanoma runs in both sides of the family, and I’ve been known to burn and blister in a matter of minutes. Not hours, minutes. Oh, you don’t think you’re pale? Are you immune to the sun? My younger adopted brother has dark Vietnamese skin, and even he wears sunscreen at Disney World. Florida in the summer is hot and humid, so the UV rays are coming in with a vengeance. Make sure you have a great sunscreen, regardless of your complexion. My mother and I have been converted to Neutrogena Age Shield. SPF 110 seems to be my magic number, despite the claims that anything above 30 works on the same level. We were at Disney for a week last summer, and neither of us got sunburned or even got new freckles. This stuff works all day. We splurged for our trip, but the store brand is what we use year-round, and it’s just as effective.

A Great Hat (or Visor). The white cap I wore around on my last trip to Disney World was a piece that I found in Walmart in the accessories aisle for less than $5. Sunscreen is great, but the best way to protect your skin is to cover it up. This cap actually replaced one that I accidentally left on a trip to Puerto Rico. It’s cheap enough that if you happen to lose it, it’s not a huge loss. My mom prefers a bucket hat (also from Walmart for the same price point) because it covers her neck and ears as well. I’m all for (and honestly, jealous of) people with Mickey Ears, but personally I recommend you save them for pictures and indoor attractions (at least in the summer).

A Great Water Bottle. Here’s where you don’t want to completely pinch your pennies. Back when I was teaching, I had a $5 water bottle. That thing leaked from the seams, the straw, and the cap after just one clumsy moment where it collided with our polished concrete floor. One of my students was tired of water covering our class tables, and bought me this CamelBak 25oz canister. This thing never leaks and is easily carried. It even fit in the side pockets of my day bag. When you’re at a Disney Park, you walk tens of thousands of steps a day without even realizing it, even in the off season. I recommend this baby for daily use and not only vacations. It also comes in over a dozen colors!

A Poncho. Florida in the summer is pretty unpredictable as far as the weather is concerned. When my family went to Disney in 2007, it rained every afternoon for at least an hour and a half. In 2019, it also rained unexpectedly at least twice. Ponchos are easy to carry and keep everything dry. Again, I gotta go with Walmart. As with any amusement park, if you buy their branded ponchos, you’re going to spend ten or more dollars on something that will probably only last you a day. I got this rain poncho (in yellow) at a neighborhood Walmart to wear for car-rider duty at work. Full price they’re around $11, but mine was on sale for $6. I wore it for my dismissal duties a few times before we went to Disney, and then it lasted me the entire trip. I still have it, actually. If you’re Texan, I’ve also seen them on sale at Buc-ee’s before.

A Day Pack or Backpack. Back in 2007, we all had fanny packs. Even though they’re making a comeback in social acceptance, I still refuse to wear one. You need something to carry all these essential items that isn’t hideous. I used this Waterproof/Anti-Theft Backpack from Amazon. It met all the requirements: comfortable to wear, anti-theft opening, waterproof, and big enough for the necessities. It’s a little pricey if you’re looking for cheap, but I mostly bought it to use for work-related flights and business trips, and since I started substitute teaching it is the only bag I take for work. My mom used a draw string bag similar to this one (yet again, from Walmart) for much less of the cost and it did just as good of a job carrying around her wallet, sunscreen, and water bottle. My Sis-in-Law carried a full size backpack for herself and Big Bro as well.

As you can see, I prioritize re-use in my essential items. Chances are, I will use most (if not all) of these again on my next Disney trip, saving even more money! Stay tuned for more Disney-related lists and be healthy at safe home until the parks open again!